While the storm really wasn't moving due to the ridge of high pressure, it was instead expanding. Now showing itself on the coast from the South Carolina to the Virginia border, the steady winds also pushed inward and when mixing with the colder air to the west due to a dip in the jet stream, heavy snow began in the North Carolina Blue Ridge and into the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
On the evening tide that day, the Atlantic started it's breach of the beach dune line along many places in the Outer Banks. The most serious was on Hatteras Island due to its distance out in the ocean, its fragile nature and the waves now approaching twenty feet in the surf. In Kitty Hawk, the nature of how close the road was to the sea became a huge disadvantage as wash-overs started, but it wouldn't be long before most of the beach would face a similar fate. People hunkered down, hoping for the best and tried to get some sleep while now being advised that it was going to be much worse than expected. They had already figured that out, of course, since the steady nature of the wind and the increasing waves and tide levels made that clear. And when that evening tide exceeded general patterns for a nor'easter by a considerable degree, they were yet to find out that it was the first of five consecutive high tide levels in their future. All that water that was either being pushed up on the oceanfront and in the inlets and overwash areas to join the sound water on its also westward track, would cause disastrous consequences along the Inner Banks as well. What's more, when the wind ultimately changed back to the west, all that water would rush again toward the Outer Banks, completing the disastrous cycle of a storm tide on the barrier islands.
Meanwhile, I was a fourteen year old young man at our winter home in Newport News two blocks from the Hampton Roads harbor. We walked down to the seawall and were aghast to find that the normally tranquil water was in the equivalent of four foot waves already nearing the top of the seawall and we were at least a hundred miles north of the worst of the worst of things at the time. As it very slowly would work its way up the coast, we knew on that night as we celebrated Mom's birthday that some tough hours were on the way.
By now, all the meteorologists were reporting a potentially catastrophic nor'easter was on the way to eventually cover the coast from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod almost simultaneously. Snows of blizzard proportions were already being reported in the mountains, so no one in the entire region would be spared. If it wasn't high tides, it was high wind and rain or snow of major proportions. That night we gathered together as a family for prayer, Mom called Aunt Sylvia in Nags Head to pray with her for safe passage through the storm and we learned before daybreak that the Outer Banks were being cutoff from the mainland at least for a few days, which turned out to be much longer.
The next day would be Ash Wednesday and with it would come significant increase in wave size, high tide levels, and wind approaching a steady strength of nearly seventy miles an hour. The water flow up and over the beach would continue, the Inner Banks would become islands of existence themselves and the communication links for most were now severed. It would be the beginning of over two full days of nature at its worst and we all were beginning to face it all along the Eastern Seaboard. Oh, the ridge to the north would gradually break down and the storm would eventually pick up speed and move, but having five consecutive high tides and continual onshore winds approaching hurricane winds is something that is for the record books. That was truly the case with this perfect storm, where low pressure, frontal conflict and the effect of the moon at its perigee to the earth during the period joined together to create a true Storm of the Century.
Tomorrow in my third and final installment of the story, I am taking a different approach. Based upon listening to Mom on the phone with my favorite Aunt Sylvia in Nags Head, the content of a letter that Sylvia wrote to Mom shortly after the storm and my talking at length with my dear aunt, I will present the letter story almost like a diary of how things went. It is now an extract of my legacy book, "Summers at Old Nags Head." The book is available from Amazon Prime (paperback) and Kindle Unlimited via my Facebook author page, www.facebook.com/northfloridawriter. It tells the story of the first eighteen summers of my life spent on that glorious shore. No story in it is more unforgettable than this one: The Great Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962. We did get the opportunity to visit our cottage as soon as it was allowed, but the devastation we witnessed along the way and the multiple detours told more about the story and the courageous nature of all those Outer Bankers present on those fateful days. Those people were truly Old Salts of the Earth with a determination to work together to bring things back. God bless them all.