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A flurry of memories

Residents recall blizzard of '83

Residents recall blizzard of '83

February 10, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Long after the last snowflake had fallen during the blizzard of Feb. 11, 1983, many motorists stranded when the interstates shut down still were being housed at volunteer fire companies around the Tri-State area.

"We housed and fed 186 people at the Williamsport Fire Hall," said Jay Grimes, now president, then chief of Williamsport Fire Co. "I remember it very well."

Twenty years ago Tuesday, that 25-inch snowfall broke the one-day accumulation record of 22 inches set in March 1942 in Washington County.

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Those figures were provided 20 years ago by Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer, who is still recording and reporting on the weather.

The snow started falling early that Friday morning and intensified as the day wore on.

Sgt. Steve McCarty of the Maryland State Police recalls getting ready for work that day and learning there was no way he would be able to get to the Rockville, Md., barrack, to which he was assigned.

"I was just a trooper, three or four months out of the academy that February," McCarty said. "They said Interstate 70 was closed at South Mountain so I would be working out of Hagerstown that day."

At first, McCarty was stationed at I-70 and Md. 66, dealing with stranded motorists. Then he was told to head for Interstate 81, which was rapidly becoming impassable as the snowfall continued.

"I had no heat in my cruiser and I was freezing," McCarty said. "At one point, I sat in a trucker's cab to warm myself."

McCarty said he didn't see his home again until Saturday night. He and other troopers who were stranded stayed in the bunk room at the barrack Friday night.

Jeff Ringer remembers vividly that he was to work from 4 p.m. to midnight at Washington County Fire and Rescue Communications at 33 W. Washington St., where he was a dispatcher.

Chief of the Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway then and now, Ringer said he was driven to work by Halfway volunteers in a four-wheel-drive vehicle that Friday.

"Once I got there, I was there to stay," Ringer said. "Randy Stouffer and I worked around the clock because no one else could get in."

Ringer said there were few calls but someone had to be there to take calls if they did come in.

"Occasionally we would walk upstairs and look out the window to see Washington Street disappearing," he said.

When Ringer finally got back to Halfway, he walked into the fire hall and wondered who all the strangers were inside the building.

As it turned out, stranded motorists were directed off the snowbound interstates by police into the parking lot at Kmart in Valley Plaza. "From there, we and other fire companies were picking those people up and housing them as best we could," Ringer said.

The next morning, all of those stranded motorists were fed by the fire company personnel, Ringer and Grimes said.

The effects of that storm continued through the weekend, as many churches were unable to hold regular Sunday worship.

"We didn't have church that Sunday or the next, if I recall," said Pastor James R. Riley of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Riley's most vivid memory was conducting a funeral that Friday at the former Kogelschatz Funeral Home on King Street in Martinsburg and fearing that he would never make it home, which was just a mile away.

"They were unable to bury that person for quite a while because of that snowstorm," Riley said.

Since the 1983 storm, the Tri-State area was again visited by a record-breaking storm on Jan. 7 and 8, 1996, when a total of 34.9 inches of snow fell in Washington County in a two-day period, according to Keefer's figures.

The area forecast for today calls for snow to end in the afternoon, with a possible accumulation of 1 to 3 inches. On Tuesday, there is a 30 percent chance of snow in the afternoon.

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