Wet and Wicked Weather in Western Virginia – Part 2: the Blizzard of 1996

As we embark on the longest stretch of winter, with a polar vortex on the horizon, I’m remembering back 25 years to the biggest winter event in my lifetime, and one of our country’s most devastating on record: the Blizzard of January 6-8, 1996. Over those days, a massive winter storm plastered our entire state, with almost every region of Virginia receiving more than 10 inches. Roanoke got a record 2 feet, but Page County, my childhood home, won the state prize with over 3 feet of snow falling in 24 hours. At my family’s house we measured 42 inches, with drifts much higher thanks to driving winds. I was but a young lad in those days, something less than a teenager, and it was all a great adventure. The day afterwards, I remember digging a footpath down the length of our 200 yard driveway, so that I could walk into town to buy… birdseed. Apparently when we stocked up on bread and milk for ourselves before the storm, we forgot about our family’s feathered dependents. (I regret to say that though I still sporadically feed the birds, I probably wouldn’t show that kind of dedication to their wellbeing today.) 

Though our family weathered the blizzard with no mishaps, that was not true everywhere: across the mid-Atlantic, building roofs collapsed, terrible traffic accidents occurred, the government shut down, widespread power outages led to thousands without heat, travel was rendered impossible for days, and in the end 154 people died along the eastern seaboard from that storm. The following days led to more wild events: two more snow events occurred in the next week. That was immediately followed by an unseasonable warming trend, which led to rapid melting and major flooding, with many roads and bridges washed out in my hometown of Luray. All told, the cost of the storm was estimated at $3 billion.

As far as snow is concerned, I’ve never grown up, and after every snowfall you’ll find me outside with my kids sledding (or attempting to). But as a homeowner, breadwinner, and driveway clearer, I admit that 42 inches is a bit beyond the pale, or shovel, as the case may be. Give me neither the sticky deep south, nor the blustery far north, just the four pleasant seasons of the Blue Ridge mountains. And enough snow for a few snowball fights a year.

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