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Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962

The Ash Wednesday storm caused a lot of damages to homes, like this one on Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

Delaware Public Archives

Most nor'easters move swiftly, dashing in and out of heavily populated areas. In 1962, however, the Ash Wednesday storm stayed well beyond its welcome. No other winter storm in the last 50 years has done more damage.

From March 5 through 9, the Northeast and mid-Atlantic coastline of the U.S. were directly under a deluge when the Ash Wednesday storm remained stationary at the worst possible time of the year: spring high tides. Imagine Maryland's Ocean City under 4 feet (1.22 meters) of floodwater swept into massive waves by 70 mile (112.6 kilometer) per hour winds. Or traveling to one of Delaware's few temporary shelters 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) inland -- by boat. And knowing that nearby islands, such as Chincoteague and Assateague, were entirely underwater with 1,200 homes destroyed and a famed wild pony population almost wiped out.

While the nor'easter was decimating miles of shoreline with wind and waves along the eastern seaboard, in Virginia the Ash Wednesday storm dropped 42 inches (106.6 centimeters) of snow.

Meteorologists pointed to a convergence of a coastal low pressure system, a northern high pressure system and unusually high spring tides for five days. By the time the Ash Wednesday storm moved on, it had caused 40 deaths, left $200 million in damages in its wake (the equivalent of $1.5 billion today), and prompted an effort to install beach-preserving dunes. In addition, new construction standards for oceanfront homes resulted in more storm-worthy standards, such as elevated pilings [source: Samenow].

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