National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

       One of the most damaging and meteorologically unique winter storms to strike the eastern United States occurred on Thanksgiving weekend 1950. After it was over, as much as 57 inches of snow blanketed the central Appalachians (with locally up to 62 inches at Coburn Creek, WV) and one of the most widespread and damaging wind events ever recorded over the Northeastern U.S. made the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 the costliest storm on record up until that time. East Kentucky wasn’t spared as record setting cold combined with over a foot of snow for many areas.


       The precursor to the storm was the passage of an arctic cold front late on the 23rd into the 24th. The front passed through eastern Kentucky around midnight and the change in airmass was dramatic. Temperatures plunged from the 40s and 50s just ahead of the front to the teens just behind it. A thin but heavy band of snow accompanied the dramatic temperature drop behind the front with as much as 7 inches falling across southeast Kentucky on the morning of the 24th.

       The record setting arctic airmass behind the front sent temperatures to all-time monthly lows across the Upper Midwest and Ohio Valley. Chicago dropped to -2ºF on the 24th equaling their all-time monthly low, and a day later Louisville (-1ºF), Lexington (-3ºF) and Bowling Green (-7ºF) all recorded record lows for the month. Temperatures across eastern Kentucky by the morning of the 25th were in the single digits and teens, and still dropping.

       Low pressure quickly developed on the arctic front over the Carolinas on the 25th. The low tracked northwestward into Ohio by midday on the 26th with a shield of heavy snow expanding back to the northwest as it did so. The storm slowly wound down as it spun in place over Lake Erie on the 27th and 28th before it finally weakened and exited into Canada on the 29th and 30th.

       Surface maps are included below for each day from the 24th through the 29th.  Click on each map to enlarge.

November 24, 1950 Surface Chart November 25, 1950 Surface Chart November 26, 1950 Surface Chart
Surface Chart, 1:30 am November 24, 1950 Surface Chart, 1:30 am November 25, 1950 Surface Chart, 1:30 am November 26, 1950


November 27, 1950 Surface Chart November 28, 1950 Surface Chart November 29, 1950 Surface Chart
Surface Chart, 1:30 am November 27, 1950 Surface Chart, 1:30 am November 28, 1950 Surface Chart, 1:30 am November 29, 1950


A unique feature with this storm was the wild temperature gradient produced as the arctic airmass wrapped southeastward around the low, while warm air from the Atlantic was pulled northwestward. Case in point, Pittsburgh, PA received 30.5” of snow and recorded temperatures in the single digits while only 200 miles to the north, Buffalo, NY enjoyed temps in the 40s and recorded no snow at all. Intense winds buffeted the East Coast into New England. New York City recorded a peak wind gust of 94 mph and Newark, NJ recorded a 108 mph wind gust. A 140 mph gust was recorded at Bear Mountain, just north of the New York City, and winds gusted up to 160 mph on Mount Washington, NH. The intense winds caused extensive tree damage and power outages and whipped up surf on the beaches. The resulting coastal flooding breached dikes at LaGuardia Airport in New York flooding runways. Heavy rains on the warm side of the system brought near record flooding to eastern Pennsylvania. By the time the storm wound down on November 29th and 30th, 160 people were dead and insurance companies paid more money out to their policy holders for damage than for any other previous storm or hurricane.
Across eastern Kentucky, several days of snow added up to over a foot in many areas. Paintsville recorded 14”, Hazard and Manchester 13” and Pineville received 11”. Bitter cold also gripped the area with most locations recording temperatures in the single digits to near zero on the 24th and 25th. Middlesboro bottomed out at 3ºF, Williamsburg 1ºF, Farmers 0ºF and Somerset –2ºF. All but the 0ºF reading at Farmers still stand as record low temperatures for the month of November.
Storm Total Snowfall for the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 (click on map to enlarge)

Storm Total Snowfall for the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950


More information on this storm can be found in the article "The Great Appalachian Storm in Historical Context" courtesy of the National Centers for Environmental Information.