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Storm This Week Versus '62 Ash Wednesday Storm

March 04, 2013; 6:33 AM

No two storms are ever exactly alike, and the case with the storm on the East Coast in March 6-7, 2013, will be no exception to this rule. However, there may be similarities to other storms over the past and particularly one that occurred in 1962 on the same date.

The Ash Wednesday Storm, as it was called, caused everything from feet of snow to high winds and extensive coastal flooding.

The storm which formed on February 5, 1962, stalled along the mid-Atlantic coast and blasted areas with heavy precipitation, gales and storm surge for days. Over 40 people were killed, over 1,000 others were injured and damage reached $200 million 1962 dollars.

Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams and the majority of AccuWeather.com meteorologists concur that the storm of 1962 and the storm during the middle of this week bear similarities on the historical weather maps.

This surface and upper atmosphere weather map from March 6, 1962 appears from the archives of the U.S. Department of Commerce. We apologize for the faded appearance. Note the Omega Block setup with the jet stream in the lower left panel.

The storm of 1962 caused extensive damage to boardwalks and beaches and flooding in communities from North Carolina to Long Island with beach erosion as far north as Maine.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), during the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962, part of Steel Pier at Atlantic City, N.J., was destroyed and NASA's Wallops Island facility sustained extensive damage. Chincoteague and Assateague islands were completely submerged. Winds reached 70 mph and offshore seas approached 40 feet. Two feet of snow fell from Charlottesville to Winchester, Va., with 18 inches of snow falling as far north as the middle of Pennsylvania. Snow fell as far south as Alabama.

The keys to the storm for this week in terms of impact are how strong it becomes, how long it lingers along the mid-Atlantic coast and so being how far north it turns.

Other Stories of Interest:
Storm Update: DC, Virginia, Maryland Midweek Snow
East Storm: Wind, Beach Erosion and Coastal Flooding
Minneapolis, Chicago Snowstorm: May Rival Biggest of the Season

Odds are against high impact from the storm lingering for three or four days like the '62 Ash Wednesday Storm, so damage and flooding are likely to be far less severe.

However, the storm this week will stall offshore and could prolong minor to moderate rough surf, beach erosion and coastal flooding problems in some areas into the weekend.

Based on new information, the setup should provide the storm with enough forward momentum, legs if you will, so that the period of strong winds and rough surf conditions are limited to 24 to 36 hours. As a result we are not likely to push the amount of water toward the coast, when compared to the '62 storm.

The storm could swing close enough to southeastern New England for a time to bring strong nor'easter conditions later Thursday into Friday.

"The storm in '62 hit at a time of high astronomical tides; There was a new moon on March 6, 1962," according to Elliot Abrams, "Fortunately, the storm next week will be occurring multiple days well away from the new and full moon."

Abrams noted that coastal flooding would not be made worse by the phase of the moon.

The greatest impact from water-level rise would occur around the high tide cycles each day.

The storm is likely to produce a swath of heavy snow from the mountains of West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland to part of the mid-Atlantic Coast. It gets tricky near the coast, due to warm air issues bringing rain instead of snow or at least rain during part of the storm.

The storm next week is scheduled to occur about a week ahead of the 20th anniversary of the "Storm of the Century," otherwise known as the "Blizzard of '93."

That mid-March storm developed over the Gulf of Mexico and turned northeastward riding up the Appalachians and Atlantic Seaboard with great damage and coastal flooding, high winds and feet of snow and did so at most locations for a mere 24 hours.

While completely different storms in terms of track and/or origination, the storm this week has the potential to deliver disruptive consequences for a heavily populated part of the nation, just as the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 and the Blizzard of 1993.

Damage at Virginia Beach, Virginia following the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk, VA (March, 1962)

The storm of 1962 and 1993 were meteorological monsters and the storm next week has the potential to be the same from the impact of heavy snow alone. There is the potential for this storm to deliver one to two feet of snow at its most intense phase with just the right atmospheric conditions.

Expect moderate to strong nor'easter conditions from eastern New Carolina to southeastern Virginia, the Delmarva Peninsula, the southern part of New Jersey and southeastern New England.

This story was published on Fri., Mar. 1, 2013 and has been updated periodically with the most recent update at 6:30 a.m. EST, Tues., Mar 5, 2013.

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