air gripped much of the eastern United States in advance of this storm with
strong high pressure (1048 mb) over southern Canada and the northern Great
Plains providing the cold air (Figure 2). Aloft, a very cold polar vortex
moved from the southeastern part of Hudson Bay into the Maritime Provinces
of Canada and northern New England as of 00Z March 1 (Figure 3). A potent
500 mb shortwave developed in the strong upper cyclonic flow and dove into
the lower Mississippi Valley by 12Z March 2 (Figure 4).
Figure 2. Surface Analysis at 12Z
March 1, 1980 showing strong Arctic high pressure covering much of the
500 mb Heights at 00Z March 1, 1980 showing cold polar vortex over eastern
500 mb Heights/Vorticity at 12Z March 2, 1980 showing shortwave digging
across the southern states.
shortwave continued to strengthen, the overall system slowed and became
neutrally tilted by the afternoon of March 2 with the 500 mb low cutting
off over Georgia (Figure 5). By
late afternoon on March 2, the system intensifies and becomes negatively
tilted with cyclogenesis off the South Carolina coast (Figure 6).
Figure 5. 500 mb Heights/Vorticity at
21Z March 2, 1980 showing upper low becoming negatively tilted and cutting
Figure 6. Surface low pressure deepening
off the Carolina coast late evening March 2, 1980
the morning of March 2, snow was falling across Alabama, Georgia, north
Florida, eastern Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and southern
Virginia. The precipitation in Eastern North Carolina started as sleet
around noon on March 1, creating icy roads. It was during the afternoon and
evening on the 2nd, when the very heavy snowfall occurred across eastern
North Carolina as the surface low rapidly strengthened offshore to 999 mb
by 00Z March 3. At 250 mb, eastern North Carolina was in the area in the
right rear entrance region of a jet streak across the northeast, and also
in the left front exit region of the jet streak across Florida (Figure 7).
This maximized lift over the region with a large area of strong 250 mb
divergence (Figure 8). This strong upper divergence corresponded well with
the heaviest snowfall amounts. As the surface low continued to move away
from the area late on March 2 into early March 3, it “bombed”,
creating sufficient instability to produce rare “thunder snow”
over the Outer Banks. Gusty winds also accompanied the storm with blizzard
like conditions observed. Wind gusts in excess of 60 mph caused not only
snow drifts up to 8 feet, but also very cold wind chills.
250 mb Winds showing Eastern North Carolina between 2 jet streaks.
250 mb Divergence at 21Z March 2, 1980. Divergence matched up well with
areas of heaviest snowfall.
continued until early Monday morning March 3 before ending. With the deep snow pack, very cold
temperatures were observed in the wake of the storm on Monday March 3, as
Cedar Island dropped to 10 degrees and Morehead City to 12 degrees.
Eastern Carolina University Account of
account of the March 1980 snowstorm is courtesy of the Joyner Library
Archives at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC.
How It Was . . . Remember the Blizzard of March 2, 1980,
The bulletin board in the lobby of
Mendenhall Student Center read: "Today on Campus . . . Snow . . . No
Classes." Classes at ECU were cancelled on Monday and Tuesday, March 3
and 4, and the University slowly struggled back to normal on following days
while as much as 20 inches of snow and frozen stuff melted.
The "blizzard" which struck
the area on March 2 forced a total closing of ECU the next day. "I
can't remember the University closing down before," said Vice
Chancellor-Business Affairs C.G. Moore. "We had a big ice storm back
in the 60s, but I don't think we closed down even then." Mrs. Agnes Barrett, long-time
administrative assistant, recalled that classes were cancelled because of
damage from Hurricane Hazel in October 1954. That was wind and water
The blizzard of March 2 paralyzed
Eastern North Carolina with as much as 20 to 25 inches of snow, sleet and
freezing rain and high winds that whipped up three- to four-foot drifts.
"We couldn't have done anything without four-wheel drive
vehicles," said Joe Calder, ECU Director of Security. "All of our
regular vehicles were snowed in. We borrowed a couple of the Geology
Department trucks," Calder said. Others pitched in. A freshman
student, Allen Tingle, volunteered his Jeep for emergency trips, such as
taking sick students to the infirmary. They ran out of bread and milk and other
staples at the campus cafeteria and snack bar and at nearby convenience
stores. Pitt Memorial Hospital ran short of blood and there was an appeal
for donors. The Post Office suspended service. Newspapers were late.
Snowbound insofar as vehicular traffic
was concerned, some students, faculty, and staff found plenty to do --
shoveling snow, for example. Some students with shovels walked from house
to house in residential neighborhoods offering to shovel walks and drives.
Some students stationed themselves near the icy drifts at street
intersections to help the occasional motorists make it through. Many ECU
people, however, were virtually marooned. Cars and trucks were stranded all
over the area. It was estimated that 3,000 ECU students were more or less
stranded in the campus area. They frolicked on the snow-covered hills and
streets. Jim Westmoreland, men's residence counselor at Scott Dorm,
reported few problems. The cafeteria was serving hamburgers on muffins or
French bread. A hot dog on a weiner bun was not
to be found. "We had no deliveries of bread or milk for a few
days," said Ira Simon, spokesman for Servomation.
Shelves of nearby convenience stores were wiped clean of bread, milk,
cakes, cookies, and the like.
On Tuesday, University officials
waited until a forecast of rising termperatures
to decide to resume classes on Wednesday. A great deal of snow remained --
even more melting slush. Slowly, however, things returned to normal. One
instructor reported four of his fourteen students made it to class on Wednesday.
"It could have been worse," said another professor wryly.
"It could have come during spring break."
Most ECU people took it all in stride,
although astonished. Student Bonnie Hall of Rich Square was taking pictures
of the snow-covered landscape. "I'm going to send pictures to my aunt
who went to school here," she said. "She'll never believe that
there is this much snow in Greenville."
courtesy of the NOAA NWS
NCEP Reanalysis Data Display, NOAA’s Daily Weather Maps, and Allan
Huffman at raleighwx.americanwx.com. Other images courtesy of James Merrell
and WRAL-TV, Raleigh, NC.