Snow due on first day of spring, but it's been worse
Pete McClure's neighbor, perhaps with understandable impatience, uttered those three magical words to him this week: "Spring is here." Never mind that his West Deptford neighbor was a bit off on the timing. McClure, who had a profound personal experience with what some would argue was the true "storm of the century," said Thursday that he was quick to counterpoint.
Pete McClure's neighbor, perhaps with understandable impatience, uttered those three magical words to him this week: "Spring is here."
Never mind that his West Deptford neighbor was a bit off on the timing. McClure, who had a profound personal experience with what some would argue was the true "storm of the century," said Thursday that he was quick to counterpoint.
"I said, 'No, no, no!' "
The atmosphere is siding with McClure.
Meteorologists are confident that by the time the astronomical spring arrives at 6:45 p.m. Friday, a coastal storm will have decorated the region with one to four inches of snow, primarily on lawns and mailboxes - with the higher amounts in elevated areas north and west of Philadelphia.
In a development boding well for motorists, on Thursday afternoon road-surface temperatures were in the upper 40s and low 50s, the National Weather Service said. Working in tandem with the sun, paved surfaces should act as low-grade hot plates during the day to melt any falling snow.
While this latest snow could be viewed as a rude intrusion by a winter season that has outlasted its welcome, it could be, and has been, worse on the first day of spring.
No computer model or reasonably sane weatherman has Friday's events measuring up to what occurred on March 19 to 21, 1958, when 50 inches of snow was recorded as close by as Morgantown.
Roofs collapsed, and phone and electric lines fell with the snow all over the region.
McClure had an intimate encounter with that storm, as did a teenaged Bernie Gallagher. Along Ardleigh Street in Chestnut Hill, said Gallagher, who now lives outside Washington, "I saw what I thought was a bonfire in the middle of the street. As I drew closer, I realized it was a live wire."
More than 400,000 customers of what is now Peco lost power in that storm, a record at the time.
Winters never replicate, but the 1957-58 and 2014-15 seasons do bear some similarities:
Neither ranked in the top 40 coldest overall in the 142 years of record- keeping, and both were late starters.
The final two weeks of February 2015 were the most frigid such period on record in Philadelphia, and as of equinox eve, some icing persisted on the region's waterways, according to the National Ice Center.
The 10.6 inches of snowfall last month was well above normal, but more than that fell in the paralyzing blizzard of Feb. 15 and 16, 1958, one of the most disruptive storms ever in the Northeast. That was followed by a profound Arctic outbreak.
And, like this one, that winter was a spring crasher, with temperatures not reaching 60 in 1958 until April 7.
Temperatures were right around freezing when the snow started on Wednesday, March 19, 1958, and McClure recalled that about 5 p.m., while the forecast wasn't terribly menacing, the air was full of fat snowflakes. "They were the size of baseballs," he recalled.
Then 13, McClure was on his way to catch a bus to Lancaster to see Darby High School play in the PIAA basketball tournament, with a shot at the finals.
He was about to get an unguided tour of areas hardest-hit by the storm. By the time his bus got to West Chester, a good two hours later, six to eight inches already had accumulated.
Mired in the intensifying snow on back roads, the bus finally made it to Lancaster at 11 p.m., just in time for McClure to see his team lose.
Of five buses carrying the Darby faithful to the game, three never made it. The story goes that those passengers took shelter in a diner that ran out of food, McClure recalled. Farmers in the area, bearing pigs for slaughter, came by to feed them.
On the way home, the snow was so deep that his bus was going nowhere. The 40 or so passengers had to sleep on the heatless vehicle. Bathrooms? "We had outside," McClure said.
His bus tried again that Thursday, with heavy snow still falling - that's the day that a state-record 38 inches was measured in Morgantown for the 24-hour period - but ran out of gas. The passengers ended up sleeping on the floor of a Grange hall, probably not noticing that spring arrived at 10:05 p.m.
McClure remembered walking at a nearby farm and stepping into a hole, and "the snow was over my head." The bus finally made it back to Darby Borough on Friday night.
Were the parents worried? "Not having Twitter, not having cellphones, I don't think they had an hourly update," said McClure.
Nevertheless, he doesn't recall any widespread panic among the adult passengers. And for the youths, it was hardly an ordeal.
"It was an experience," he said. "It was kind of cool. Here we are. We didn't have to go home. We didn't have to go to school."
BY THE NUMBERS
inches of snow fell during the March 19-21, 1958, storm.
inches of snow fell on March 20, 1958 in Morgantown, Pa.
Pa. deaths attributed to the storm.
Peco power outages during the storm.
inches of snow in Philadelphia during the storm.
days to summer 2015.