“Family Blizzard Outing”

By TC Moore, CCM – Northern Virginia

Published: March 9, 2023

I was monitoring the weather in northern Virginia in early March of 2013 and noted a potential blizzard coming in for Wintergreen Ski Resort, about two hours from my house. As a meteorologist, of course I wanted to experience the blizzard, and more importantly, I wanted to experience the epic skiing on the day after, so I made plans to pack up the family van with two teenage boys, my wife at the time, a 100-pound dog, and food for a couple of days. I wasn’t worried about driving to or from the resort because I had plans to travel ahead of the storm to get there during the late afternoon prior to the storm, and I knew the March sun angle would help clear the roads a day or two after the storm.

But I ended up with a later start than originally planned, and I could see blue (heavy snow) on the radar heading into the Virginia foothills as I started the trip late in the evening. Since we were driving a front wheel drive minivan with all season tires, I should have called off the trip at that point. However, we checked with the ski resort, and they confirmed that they were plowing their road up to the top, so I elected to press on.

But we didn’t even make to the resort drive, the roads in the valley below the resort had become impassable. So, there we were, stuck on a remote country road at 10pm in the dark, no houses around, just a few other cars stuck on (or off!) the road, like us. I felt pretty stupid, wondering what I was going to do with the family, the van, and the dog, and worse - knowing that the full force of the storm had not even arrived yet.

48-hour snowfall accumulations march 7 2013
Figure 1: 48-hour snowfall accumulations as of the morning of March 7th, 2013.
Source: NOAA Archives/Weather & Climate Toolkit

Mercifully, a ski resort employee came along in a large four-wheel-drive vehicle, and graciously offered to carry the four of us, our luggage, gear, and food, and the 100-pound dog up to the top of the mountain. He was only able to get us within a half mile of our cabin, so he dropped the us off with the dog, food, and luggage, and we stumbled through heavy snow, in the dark, trying to find the right cabin.

We finally made it in and got settled, as the snowstorm grew in intensity. Overnight and during the next day, the snow fell at very heavy rates, and wind gusted 40-50 mph for a very long periods of time. The lifts were shut down, and the power went out – allowing the temperatures to drop into the mid 40’s (°F) in the cabin.

My wife noted that I didn’t seem excited about experiencing a true blizzard. Well, in my defense, we were not out on the slopes having fun skiing, instead I was busy worrying about how we were going to cook the food we brought, how we were going to stay warm, where exactly the van was, how we were going to get back down the mountain to retrieve the van, when the power was going to come back on, and where our son and his friend were – they had gone out into the storm to snowboard, and we didn’t hear from them for several hours.

Later that day, our son and his friend made it back to the cabin with epic tales of snowboarding through the blizzard in the woods, and thankfully the power came back on. We were able to get warm again and cook a hearty meal for the hungry boys.

The next day, the sun came out, and under calm winds and blue skies, we looked out in awe at 28” of new powder. I still had the problem of getting down off the mountain, and finding the van, but that could wait. There was epic skiing and snowboarding under perfect bluebird conditions awaiting us…