At school that day, the winds were really picking up outside and I remember at the end of the day having to lean into the wind while waiting for the bus to take me home. Going by Peterson's Yacht Basin on the ride home, we noticed the water was high and starting to overflow the banks, but the road itself was clear. And once home, I accompanied several of my friends down to the Hampton Roads to see the condition of the harbor. The wind was blowing steady at about twenty-five to thirty knots out of the east northeast and water was high with small rollers crashing into the seawall sending spray high into the air. It was about three feet from cresting the top and spilling over into the roadway.
Saying goodbye to my friends, I went home, dried off and went to watch the early news before dinner. Joe Foulkes, the local fixture with the weather, was showing the charts with the now official nor'easter off the southeast South Carolina coast and tracking offshore right up the coastline at a slow speed. Beach erosion was already underway in South Carolina and Foulkes also pointed to a sign of times to come. To the north and west, a cold front was trying to push through but was being held up by a strong high pressure system and this generated strong winds from the high pushing toward the southeast, interacting with the low which was growing stronger and larger. As long as the high pressure didn't move, the wind would increase and remain constant for an extended time. The guess was that the storm would stall for perhaps a day and the push of rising water by wind would continue uninterrupted. By late Wednesday, Hampton Roads would begin to get the serious weather while the Outer Banks would see the fury at least twelve hours earlier.
That evening, Mom called her sister, Aunt Sylvia, who lived at Nags Head right across the beach road from our oceanfront cottage with her husband, Uncle Hal, a Nags Header by birth. Sylvia had ridden out many a storm on the beach but she told Mom this one could be like nothing she had ever seen. They were preparing for two, perhaps three days of steady winds approaching hurricane strength out of the northeast. Mom told her to take care and they would talk again later if the phones would work. Mom wouldn't talk to Sylvia again for weeks as both the power and the phones went out during the night. While we knew now that it would hit us pretty strong in Tidewater, we also knew that the Outer Banks, mere sandbars jutting out into the ocean like a prizefighter's chin begging for a punch, would be punched hard and often. All we could do was pray and get ready.
Tomorrow, in the finale of this remembrance of the Ash Wednesday Storm, I'll write about the days of the full fury of the sea, March 7-9. I'll do so in a unique way that should really make you think you are there in the storm. I write this account to make the point that we can't prepare for our future if we don't know about the past. For those who live in places subject to extremes of nature, that is very critical. I hope you find it informative and of benefit.