Big Ice Storm Was 50 Years Ago This Month

Saturday, March 6, 2010 - by John Shearer
Signal Mountain during 1960 ice storm
Signal Mountain during 1960 ice storm
- photo by Bicentennial Library

Fifty years ago this month, an unusual event – the 1960 ice storm – resulted in some unique memories as well for Chattanoogans.

People living on Lookout and Signal mountains at the time have not likely forgotten the storm, and current residents who experienced the bad wintry conditions of 2010 can certainly better understand why it was so unforgettable.

With power outages, damaged trees and homes, and blocked roads, the 1960 storm was certainly a major hassle throughout Chattanooga.

In contrast to most modern winter storms, this ice blizzard came in almost unexpectedly, even though the winter of 1959-60 had already seen plenty of snowfall, and five more inches would fall a week after the storm.

According to the weather reports found in old Chattanooga newspapers, the forecast for Wednesday, March 2, called for rain with a possibility of snow, sleet and ice. The high was supposed to reach 40 degrees, and not much accumulation was expected.

A little snow and sleet were found on the ground that day, and a write-up in the afternoon Chattanooga News-Free Press described the scene as beautiful.

Unfortunately, the scene quickly went from pretty to ugly.

In what was considered an unusual meteorological happening, the upper atmosphere was much warmer than the lower, causing the rain that was freely falling to turn into ice by the time it collected on the ground – and on all the trees and power poles. Winds of about 17 miles an hour were also causing problems.

After the precipitation had done its trick, the falling temperatures continued inflicting trouble. The low on March 3 was zero degrees, and the wind began howling even more strongly.

As a result, trees and telephone poles fell, and Lookout Mountain heard more cracks and pops than anytime since the Civil War battle.

The next day was hardly warmer.

Not only were the mountains virtually powerless, so was much of the rest of Chattanooga. Tennessee Governor Buford Ellington called in the National Guard to assist in the disaster, and utility crews began working to restore power. Almost a week would pass before power would be restored to even half the homes.

With no electrical power, many Chattanoogans had to resort to will power.

Some residents spent several nights in such hotels as the Read House and headed up on the mountains during the daylight hours to check on their homes or clean off the fallen trees.

A few people even tried to stay in their mountain homes and tough the situation out using fireplaces or kerosene heaters.

Despite the challenges to certain senses as people scrambled to find warmth, the situation was still quite a treat visually, as the area took on the look of a winter wonderland.

When the storm first arrived, many thought it was the worst storm since one in 1905, but within a few days, the 1960 one was described as being worse, even though no one fortunately died.

The problems would persist long after the ice melted and the power was restored, as arborists were predicting that 40 years would be required to replenish the mountains with equally mature trees.

It was a storm that would not easily be forgotten – even 50 years later.

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