Saturday, March 03, 2012

Weather History: Wilt & Ash Wednesday Storm

50 years ago yesterday was the day that Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game for the then Philadelphia Warriors.  A game that occurred not in Philadelphia but at the old Hersheypark Arena in a game that drew just over 4000 fans on a cold early March day in the Mid Atlantic.   The high that day in Harrisburg, which is near Hershey, was just 28 degrees -- the same high also occurred in Philadelphia.   While it was not a record for coldest high on the day, it was still a rather chilly day that didn't lend signs to a menacing storm that would rake the Jersey coast just days later.
The sprawling high over the Great Lakes funneled cold into the Mid Atlantic.  This high worked east while an innocuous low pressure center pushed through the country.  Back on the 2nd, it was over the Rockies and by the 5th, it reached the East Coast.   The combination of a blocking pattern in the Atlantic and strong high pressure over Eastern Canada lead to the development of a stronger low pressure center that not only moved little, but provided for a strong wind gradient that pushed east-northeast winds up against the Jersey coastline.

The resulting storm system brought anywhere between three and twelve inches of snow to the region, highest in the higher elevations to the west of the city.   Philadelphia picked up 6.8" from the storm.  However, the push of east-northeast winds from the strong, slow moving low brought winds that were sustained to 35 miles per hour on the 6th with gusts that were higher.  Winds at Atlantic City were sustained to 40 miles per hour and 60 miles per hour in Ocean City, MD.

What made the storm noteworthy was its push of east-northeast winds, pushing water onshore and leading to significant coastal flooding along the Delaware and New Jersey coastlines.  The Steel Pier at Atlantic City was damaged and several blocks of Avalon were lost to the storm.  Parts of Long Beach Island were cut through to the Back Bay in a number of places.  The storm killed 40 and injured over 1000, but changed the life and face of the Jersey and Delaware coastline for a long time to come.

More:  Atlantic City Press