Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Snowstorm of October 2012


A rare consolidation of a strong mid- and upper-level trough in the polar jet stream with tropical hurricane Sandy resulted in a historic snowstorm in October 2012.

There were periods of rain on October 27 and 28 as a cold front moved east. Light rain changed to the first snowflakes on October 29. Snow fell across the high terrain of Southwest Virginia northward into the mountainous counties of central West Virginia. Heading north, the rain took longer to change to wet snow, especially in the river valleys around Elkins and Buckhannon. Heading west, the rain continued well through the evening hours. Rain changed to wet snow late on October 29 into the early morning hours of October 30 for the western foothills. This included areas around Williamson, Logan, Madison, Charleston, Clay, Sutton, and Philippi.

The main event for the mountain counties began around midday Monday, October 29. The brunt of the storm occurred overnight Monday through Tuesday, October 30. Blizzard conditions were observed during this time from the Ghent and Beckley vicinity north toward Elkins and Canaan Valley. Drifting snow was limited mostly to the highest exposed locations.

The low pressure center moved northwest from southern New Jersey on the evening of October 29, across northern Delaware, and into south-central Pennsylvania by dawn on October 30. By evening of the 30th, the weakening low pressure was in western Pennsylvania north of Pittsburgh. Wind gusts of 35 to 45 miles per hour were common in the mountainous counties. A gust to 57 miles per hour was measured on the mountaintop at Snowshoe during the morning of the 30th. The snow decreased in intensity overnight Tuesday, but some lighter snow mixed with drizzle and freezing drizzle lingered during the morning hours of Wednesday, October 31. Snow accumulations were highly dependent on elevation. One to three feet accumulated from Raleigh County north, through Fayette, Nicholas, Webster, Upshur, Randolph, and western Pocahontas counties into Tucker and Preston counties. For example, the maximum snow depth was 25 inches at Canaan Heights near Davis, 21 inches at Terra Alta, and 19 inches at Bayard, Grant County. The maximum snow depth in Elkins reached 15 inches before settling. Snow at the Raleigh County 911 center reached 18 inches.

The high terrain of Nicholas, Webster, Upshur, Randolph, and western Pocahontas Counties had snow accumulations near 40 inches. The deepest average accumulation at Kumbrabow State Forest was 38 inches. On the mountains overlooking Richwood, the snow was 36 inches deep. Department of Highway crews estimated at least three feet of snow fell on Point Mountain in Webster County. The autumn ground was still warm, and snow accumulated to even greater depths off the ground. Unofficial measurements of 40 to 50 inches were reported on surfaces such as picnic tables, vehicles, and wooden decks. A 46-inch measurement was taken from a deck in Nettie, Nicholas County.

These accumulations surpassed all previous known October snowstorms. On October 20, 1961, snow accumulations were one to two feet over the central mountains around Summersville and Richwood. In 1979, two to eight inches of snow accumulated on October 9 and 10. In 1993, a five- to 10-inch accumulation occurred over the mountainous counties on Halloween. Hilltops in the Northern Panhandle had three to seven inches.

Lesser amounts of snow were seen in lower elevations during the October 2012 storm. Accumulations of two to 10 inches were common in Wyoming, McDowell, Mingo, Logan, Boone, Lincoln, Wayne, Putnam, Kanawha, Clay, Braxton, and Barbour counties. At the National Weather Service office, less than five miles south of Charleston, the snow depth reached nine inches. Meanwhile, downtown Charleston had only one to two inches of slushy snow on the ground. In Barbour County, some measurements of 12 to 14 inches occurred across high ground in the eastern and southern portions of the county.

While snow fell on the morning of Tuesday, October 30, in counties further west, the averages were lower there. This included the cities of Huntington, Parkersburg, and Clarksburg.

Beginning early on the 30th, the weight of the wet snow brought down or bent trees and large branches onto power lines in the hardest-hit counties. Trees continued to fall even after the storm was over. Trees along roads and rights-of-way were more likely to fall, compared to those located deep within the full forest canopy. In the aftermath of the storm, some areas, such as along State Route 82 and State Route 20 near Cowen, Webster County, were described as looking like war zones.

Widespread and prolonged electric outages were the main impact on residents. Many of the hardest-hit counties in the central mountains had 80 percent or more of their residents without power. It was two weeks before the last residents had electricity. Electricity was restored to the facilities in the Kumbrabow State Forest on November 13.

The slushy snow did not keep roads impassible very long, but downed power lines and fallen trees blocked many roads and stranded vehicles. Recovery crews worked with the help of local residents. Low clouds lingered after the storm, so power companies and relief workers could not immediately use helicopters or aircraft to survey the damage or deliver supplies.

The heavy snow also brought down structures and caused sagging roofs to leak. Flat roofs were especially vulnerable. Stores in Craigsville and Summersville had roof collapses. Minor damage occurred to an apartment complex in Summersville, and 72 residents were evacuated in the middle of the night. Many mobile homes saw their roofs collapsed or damaged from snow. Preliminary damage assessments counted about 50 houses that were either destroyed or suffered major damage. The majority were located in Nicholas and Webster counties.

One death was directly attributed to the storm. Near Philippi, a 60-year-old man was clearing debris and trees at his deer farm when a tree fell and killed him. There were also three indirect deaths in the aftermath of the storm. One 62-year-old man went into cardiac arrest while shoveling snow in Belington. Two other men died from carbon monoxide emitted by generators.

As the storm began, a state of emergency was declared by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. A federal emergency declaration was also issued. About 30 shelters were set up to house residents without power and heat. As many as 600 members of the West Virginia National Guard checked on residents, delivered supplies, and assisted in the storm clean-up. President Barack Obama later issued a major disaster declaration for several counties.

Flooding was a concern during the recovery. However, mild temperatures during the afternoons and freezing temperatures at night caused the snow to melt gradually in the days immediately following the storm. Warmer temperatures during the second week of November melted most of the remaining snow pack. Strong rises occurred on the headwater rivers, but there was no flooding. Yet, after a hot summer, the ground water was recharged.

Written by Kenneth T. Batty