by Corinne Hosfeld Smith
I turned one year old. Daddy was 29. He worked as a research chemist for the Armstrong Cork Company in Lancaster PA. Mom was a stay-at-home Mom. We lived on Hathaway Street in West Hempfield Township. The #1 song on the radio on my first birthday was “Tom Dooley” by the Kingston Trio. Mom snapped this photograph.
Obviously, I have no recollection of this storm. I was barely four months old. But I do love snow. Ask anyone who knows me well, and they’ll be quick to confirm this fact. I long for the big snows that I feel I missed in childhood, when I was ever subjected to what I considered to be sub-par accumulations. (Translation: School wasn’t cancelled often enough for me.) Southeastern Pennsylvania is rarely in the right place at the right time to receive more than a dusting, or just an inch or two of snow. I had to move away to get to the good stuff: to the mountains of central Pennsylvania; to the northern Illinois prairie; and to the dynamic terrain of northern Massachusetts. Thankfully, I’ve witnessed some sizable blizzards in my adult life. And some came with power outages, too. But they all took place elsewhere, and not here, “back home.”
Being in the midst of a snow storm still energizes me. I’m more creative as a writer when the flakes are flying past my window. I've always been jealous that I wasn't cognizant enough to appreciate this blizzard of old: the one where Mom always played the furniture-in-jeopardy card for retrospective dramatic effect. She was never above using exaggeration. But was there truth to her story? I did some research at the Lancaster Public Library to find out.
On March 18, 1958, the forecast printed in the Intelligencer Journal called only for a few snow flurries. No wonder Lancastrians were taken by surprise when 13 to 21 inches of heavy snow fell during the next 48 hours. By March 20, the newspaper was calling it a “sneak storm” that left 75,000 homes without electricity, with “no estimate of restoration.” Meteorologists now suspect that this storm was a powerful “nor'easter” that blew up the Atlantic coast. Milder temperatures at the shoreline meant that larger accumulations came inland. Philadelphia and New York City each got 11 inches. But next-door to us in Berks County, Morgantown somehow amassed an astounding 50 inches. Drivers were stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. In The Pennsylvania Weather Book, meteorologist Ben Gelber labels this one the “Great March Snowstorm in the Southeast.” Turns out Mom was right.
our Hathaway Street home, March 1958
1958 was certainly not part of the Stone Age. But we were still two years away from the launch of the first weather satellite. Advance or accurate storm warnings didn’t always reach us. And it would be decades before networks of utility companies would routinely send battalions of trucks to areas ahead of time, in anticipation of storm-related outages. Folks had little choice but to sit and wait and deal with circumstances as they arrived … just as their ancestors had done for countless centuries. In 1958, we were among the lucky ones to have a fireplace and something to burn – even if it did make my mother squeamish about the safety of the décor in the next room. Everything turned out all right.
As I post these words, we’re perched in the path between a Midwestern snow storm and another Atlantic nor’easter. Places where I used to live are due to get several feet of snow over the next two days. Here in southeastern Pennsylvania, it’s the same old story. We should expect only one to three inches, or mostly rain or ice. What I wouldn’t give for a few feet of snow instead! I’ve got my fingers crossed, and I’m looking out the window for the first flakes of white. Bring it on!
pitiful Lancaster County snow