Storm of '62 devastates Delmarva and Jersey coasts

Naval crews work to free the USS Monssen after it washed ashore in Holgate, N.J., during the Storm of 1962. The boat finally was freed six weeks after the storm. SOURCE STEWART FARRELL COLLECTION
March 12, 2012

I've been researching and writing about the Storm of '62 for several weeks. It's amazing to look at photos of the devastation the Storm of the Century left behind.

I was just about to turn 7 years old when the storm hit. In my hometown of Seaford, we had no clue what was taking place just a few miles to the east. We had rain, sleet, snow and some wind, but it was hardly a noteworthy storm.

It wasn't until a week later when my dad took us to Rehoboth Beach that we realized just how bad things were. The home movies he took are historic to help us remember what The Boardwalk looked like 50 years ago.

Although we have focused on the storm as it pertains to the Cape Region, it was a Mid-Atlantic storm that hit seven states killing about 40 people, including seven along the Delaware Bay coast.

New Jersey's coastline also took the full brunt of the storm during five high tides. Some 45,000 buildings were destroyed and 32 people were killed. In today's dollars, the damage estimate in New Jersey was placed at more than $600 million.

The storm ripped away part of the famous Steel Pier in Atlantic City, N.J., and Avalon, N.J., lost six blocks of its coastal area. Long Beach Island, N.J., was hit particularly hard. The destroyer USS Monssen washed ashore near Holgate, N.J.

In New York on Long Island, communities such as Fire Island were decimated with 100 homes being destroyed.

To the south, large waves rushed over the dunes on Assateague Island and spilled into Chincoteague Bay, which lies between the island and the mainland. The bay, already high from the spring tide and the wind-blown surge from the ocean, rose even more.

The extensive flooding that ensued affected not only Assateague; the Town of Chincoteague and other small towns on the shores of the bay suffered great damage. On Chincoteague, more than 1,200 homes were damaged; large boats were carried by flood waters into town. More than 90 percent of the cars suffered flood damage, and the poultry industry was destroyed.

At nearby Wallops Island, $1 million in damage was done to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility.

Construction work underway on the new Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel suffered a setback. During the '62 Storm, much of the work partially completed and a major piece of custom-built pile driver barge called "The Big D" were destroyed.

Snow fell as far south as Alabama and temperatures hit the freezing mark in Florida, while North Carolina experienced blizzard conditions. Areas in the Shenandoah Valley received 2 feet of snow and snowfall came close to 40 inches at Big Meadows.

The storm tracked far enough south that New England avoided major snowfall, with coastal areas of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts receiving 2-4 inches of snow, with little to no accumulation away from the shore.

The Storm of the Century lives on in the minds of those who were here 50 years ago. Five decades ago the coast was a far different place, without all the hustle and bustle we have today. Just think how many more people and how many more buildings have been added to coastal areas since the last great storm.

One can only wonder what stories will be told about the storm of the 21st century.


  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

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