BIG SNOW OF 1950
by Ann Angel Eberhardt
The current winter weather woes of the northeast U.S. had me thinking of a particularly snowy event in my past that was so cold, so windy, so widespread, so destructive, and resulted in snow so deep that it has been named the “Storm of the Century.” It seemed a good time to record memories of the Big Snow of 1950.
Anyone from the Sharpsville area knows about snow, ice, sleet, slush, and drizzle. Sharpsville gets an average of 55 inches of snow per year, according to www.usa.com. The State of Pennsylvania’s average is close to 36 inches and the average in the U.S. is 23.27 inches.
Sharpsville’s cold and snowy winters are often made worse by the town’s location approximately 50 miles south of Lake Erie. When the arctic winds blow across Lake Erie’s relatively warmer waters, they pick up moisture and then dump it as snow in the higher elevations downwind from the lake. This lake-effect can sometimes extend into Mercer County.
Besides the annual experience of numb fingers and toes as kids, icy weather meant a precarious trek up South Second Street hill each weekday to attend high school, when it seemed that we slid back two steps for every step forward. The street itself was often deep in snow, creating a slippery slope that tempted neighborhood boys to try out their sleds. The ride must have been exhilarating as the daring sledder raced down that steep hill, across Main Street, down North Second Street, and finally coming to a stop at the railroad embankment.
The biggest snowstorm in my memory occurred on Thanksgiving 1950 while my family still lived in Wheatland, PA, only a few months before our move to Sharpsville. (A tiny village on the Shenango River, Wheatland was about 5 miles south of Sharpsville. It was there that my paternal grandfather, August Angel Sr, lived as a farmer on his own land and where my family joined him when World War II ended.)
The Big Snow, also known as The Great Appalachian Storm, began Wednesday night and fell all day Thursday and Friday until it was approximately 32” deep. My brother Mike and I put on our snow pants, coats, hats, and mittens, eager to experience such a heavy snow firsthand. But first we had to push hard on the front door, blocked as it was by so many feet of snow. Once outside, we dug our way as far as we could manage, creating walls as tall as we were on each side of our path.
My dad wrote about the Big Snow in his memoir. He began with a visit by my aunt and uncle from Cleveland, Ohio:
[My brother and his wife] were at the farm for a 1950 Thanksgiving weekend. Weather predictions were for snow, so my brother decided to return to Cleveland early to avoid getting caught up in it. But it was too late – snow began falling even as they prepared to leave Wheatland. There was no trouble getting to Sharon to catch the bus for Cleveland, but the snowflakes were so large and fluffy and falling so fast that, before the bus arrived in Warren, Ohio, travel became slow and hazardous…. Normal travel time of the last leg of the trip would have been an hour – but only after 8 to 10 hours later did [they] arrive home, after a harrowing travel experience.
That same snowfall continued after [my brother’s] visit and kept falling Thanksgiving eve and on “Turkey Day” until there was a 32-inch depth on the Wheatland farm by Friday morning….
He continued with an incident that became one of our favorite family tales:
Our son Michael donned heavy clothes to frolic in the snow. He slowly plowed his way out of sight. For a while his mother and I kidded each other that a rescue party might be in order to find and save him. But he was quite safe in the kitchen of a neighbor’s house, enjoying breakfast with his playmate….
On Friday morning after the snowfall ended, a bright sun was shining, despite the crisp, sub-freezing temperature. Early commentators on the local radio station, the weatherman, and distant news media reported a virtual shutdown of all street and road traffic, with a message that all should remain home. The entire area of northeast Ohio and northwest Pennsylvania, from Columbus to Pittsburgh, was under a snow-bound alert, and it could be a day or two before snowplows would make roads passable.
Dad was one of the few employees to miraculously show up on Friday at The Sharon Herald newspaper plant where he worked. Here’s how he got there:
That Friday morning I was up early to go to work. I trudged my way to the railroad roundhouse two blocks distant and boarded the Pittsburgh-Sharon passenger train that was being coaled up for the daily trip. It started each morning in Sharon and returned that evening from Pittsburgh. Due to the snow, the short ride out of Wheatland took a bit longer in time. The conductor remarked that, in all his years, he had never experienced so much snow.
I arrived at The Sharon Herald newspaper plant and was welcomed by a surprised composing room foreman, a front office manager, and the night watchman – the only people in the plant…. I worked all day Friday, then waited for the train to arrive from Pittsburgh and backtrack to the roundhouse for its next day’s trip.
Listed by some websites as one of the top ten blizzards of the twentieth century, this was indeed a storm to remember. If you, too, were around during this climatic event, please share your memories with us.
There are a number of sites that describe this storm, often with anecdotes, photographs and maps. Here are a few:
To view a video of The Big Snow in New Castle, PA, go to:
The Big Snow in Farrell, PA, is chronicled at this site:
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes the storm’s effect on the city:
From another Pittsburgh news source:
The History Channel describes the “storm of the century”:
– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ