Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962
The principal read the storm warning over the public address system, “A severe weather warning is effect for the next 48 hours for all inland waterways and coastal towns in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, New Jersey, and New York. A major late-season nor'easter will hit the east coast tonight. Tides may exceed ten feet and even higher in many places. Winds of 60 to 70 mile per hour are expected. Heavy rains will accompany the storm with some snow developing farther inland. Major flooding is expected. Residents in low lying areas, islands, and costal areas should evacuate and move inland. Those who cannot evacuate should seek higher ground immediately. ”
The principal followed that announcement with another one stating that school was cancelled and all children should return home immediately. Kathy quickly rode her bike over the causeway to Chincoteague Island where her family had a farm. Like most people who lived on Chincoteague Island, her family helped care for the famous Chincoteague Ponies. Usually, the ponies roam freely on Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island. Annually, the feral ponies on Assateague are rounded up, herded into the water, and forced to swim the channel to Chincoteague Island for auction. Kathy had fallen in love with one of the colts last year and kept it as a pet. She named him Lightning because he liked to run so much.
When she got to the farm, Kathy stopped to feed Lightning an apple from her lunch box. Her father was covering the barn windows while her mother locked the house storm windows. Kathy changed into a rain slicker and boots and went to help her father round up all the animals, especially the ponies, into the barn.
About an hour later, the Chief of Police drove up with his lights flashing. He told Kathy’s father to forget about evacuating because the causeway was now under water. He said to get into the house and if need be, get on the roof. The Coast Guard would come by as soon as they could. Kathy’s father had built the house and barn on higher ground, bulldozing the soil up to an elevation six feet above sea level. They had weathered many storms and the animals had always been safe in the barn.
When Kathy opened the corral gate to move Lightning, the pony bolted through the open gate toward the shore. Ignoring her father’s shouts for her to stop, Kathy’s chased after Lightning. By now it was dark and in her haste, Kathy forgot to bring a flashlight. The storm was starting to come ashore and the driving wind and rain reduced visability to the point where Kathy could no longer see Lightning. She decided to search along the shoreline. She could hear the buoy bell ringing loudly in the distance but it was too dark to see anything beyond the incoming foamy water. She shivered as the wind picked up, knowing the storm would hit full force in the next few hours. She had to find Lightning.
Suddenly, lightning illuminated the shore and she saw Lightning. She called his name but he only ran in circles in panic. Kathy chased him but could not get closer. It seemed like she chased him for hours. The storm was getting worst. Water covered the ground several inches in places. Finally, she had Lightning cornered along a fence that ran all the way to the beach. She knew that this was her last chance. She picked up bottle off the beach and raising her arm, threw the glass bottle into the darkness over Lightning’s head. The bottle splashed in the surf just beyond the pony. Startled, Lightning turned and bolted in the opposite direction, nearly knocked Kathy over. She grabbed his mane and swung herself onto his back. She held on tight and spoke smoothing words to calm him down. Soon Lightning calmed enough for her to ride him.
The water was rapidly rising. It was up to Lightning’s knees, making it difficult for him to walk. Suddenly, out of the darkness, the garden shed, which had been behind the house, driven by the high winds, came flying right at Kathy and Lightning,. The shed struck Kathy in the head and knocked her off Lightning. That was the last thing she remembered until she opened her eyes and found herself in the barn.
Her father told her that she was knocked unconscious by the shed and fell into the water. She probably would have drowned except for Lightning. The pony waded out into the raging surf, grabbed her collar in his teeth, and pulled her to shore. Her father then carried her to the barn. Kathy hugged and kissed the pony to thank him. She insisted in taking Lightning into the house. Under the circumstances, her father relented.
Fearful that Lightning might panic again and try to break down the door, Kathy remained with him the rest of the night. Late that night, the storm broke across the island in all its fury. Kathy kept thinking that the tide must crest soon but the water kept rising. Soon water covered the entire yard, ten feet deep in places. Kathy and her father watched in horror as the barn was swept away in the surge. Many of the animals tried to swim but were drown. Kathy and her family moved to the second floor, bringing Lightning with them.
The storm lingered for three days off the east coast. Kathy’s family farm house was saved but suffered major damage. Towns inland as far as Norfolk were inundated with high water. Forty foot waves swept the Delaware coast, destroying sand dunes, docks, and beach homes. It was one of the most destructive storms in the Atlantic Coast’s history. Some how all of that did not matter to Kathy, who was alive, thanks to Lightning. The pony’s quick actions had saved her. Lightning had lived up to his name that night.