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25th Anniversary of the epic Blizzard of '96:

This was an incredible storm for all of the big cities in the northeast. For Long Island, it started on a Sunday late morning and continued into Monday afternoon. The wind was relentless, and I will never forget the drifting of the snow that occurred overnight. Also, I remember driving to work at 5 AM on Tuesday, and the roads were still bad.


The following is from this article: https://vlab.ncep.noaa.gov/web/nws-heritage/-/the-blizzard-of-96-in-retrospect-25-years-later


The Blizzard of ‘96: In Retrospect 25 Years Later By Chris Stachelski (christopher.stachelski@noaa.gov)


It was the marquee meteorological event of one of the more epic winters ever -- a storm that, if you experienced it, still stands out in your memory to this date. You might not remember just how much snow fell, but that there was a lot of it. That it stranded you in place for a time. And then you had to dig on out. And in some places, the storm laid the foundation for another significant weather event in the subsequent weeks. It was the Blizzard of ‘96. Even though many areas have been impacted by it have seen bigger snowfalls in years since (February 2003 from the President’s Day II Storm, the Blizzards of February 2010, the Boxing Day Storm of December 2010, the snowstorms of February 2015 or more recently in January 2016), this storm is widely viewed as the Big One in the modern history of East Coast snowstorms of the last 25 years. It digs up memories akin to those from the Cleveland Superbomb in January 1978, the Blizzard of ‘78 in New England and metro New York City, the Megapolitan Storm of February 1983 and the Superstorm of March 1993 - storms that people still can recall decades later to extreme detail in some cases.


Storm Overview

The storm formed in the Gulf of Mexico on the morning of January 6th. It reached the Georgia Coast by the morning of the 7th then moved northeast toward Cape Hatteras, NC by the evening of the 7th before reaching the waters off of Southern New England the evening of the 8th. The heavy snowfall was largely due to a combination of sufficient moisture aided by cold air pushed south from an Arctic high pressure located north of the storm that generated highly effective liquid precipitation to snow ratios and a highly favorable storm track. Significant and in many cases record breaking snow for either a 24 hour period or single snowstorm occurred with this event from the Ohio Valley to southwestern Virginia to the Washington, D.C. to southern New England urban corridor.


Why Was This Storm So Significant?

At the time it occurred, the Blizzard of ‘96 was said to be the greatest snowstorm in terms of the amount of snow that fell seen by so many people largely because it produced heavy and in many cases record-breaking snowfall in the highly populated Boston to Washington, D.C. corridor in addition to areas in southwest Virginia, eastern West Virginia, and the Ohio Valley. In 2004, the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS) that ranks Northeast snowstorms was developed. NESIS ranks the second most severe Northeast snowstorm on record behind the March 1993 Superstorm or “Storm of the Century” as it was commonly called then. However, the March 1993 was more of a significant snowstorm for the spine of the Appalachians with lesser amounts toward the more heavily populated urban corridor of the Northeast. It is exceedingly tough to have a snowstorm produce over a foot of snow from Washington, D.C. to Boston due the storm needing a favorable track. Often, snowstorms that are significant events in the Washington, D.C. area tend to be lesser events in southern New England such as in February 2010 or in the case of February 2015, significant in southern New England but not in the Washington, D.C. area.


Was It Really A Blizzard?

For many, technically no. Officially, a blizzard means that the following conditions are expected to prevail for a period of 3 hours or longer - sustained wind or frequent gusts to 35 miles an hour or greater and considerable falling and/or blowing snow (i.e., reducing visibility frequently to less than ¼ mile). This event often failed to have the wind reach the criteria long enough in most areas. But, given the Blizzard Warnings issued for the event, the common usage of the name “Blizzard of ‘96” before, during, and after the event has stuck since, even in the meteorological community despite it not being technically correct in most locations. In today’s National Weather Service, issuing Blizzard Warnings based on the impact of the snow rather than the meteorology would be seen as an example of impact-based forecasting and warnings versus the old legacy strictly criteria based issuance as was often common in the 1990s.


What Was Forecasting and Data Collection Like Back Then?

Forecasting was much different in the mid-1990s versus today. The National Weather Service was in the middle of a nationwide modernization, moving offices to new facilities, closing some older, smaller offices and bringing into the operational world much of the newer generation of technology used today such as Doppler Radar and the Automated Surface Observing System or ASOS. However, graphical capabilities at offices were more limited with AFOS used as the primary system for composing products and reviewing meteorological data. Products were all hand typed. Model data was more limited in terms of models, parameters and visual display capabilities. The internet was in its infancy on a mainstream use using dial-up connectivity on a desktop computer, if available. Phone calls from storm spotters and the public and government officials, along with radio and television news, were the primary source of on-the-ground reports in real time, with hard copy newspapers used as follow up after the fact. Smartphones and social media were unknown. There were fewer reports, less visual evidence from the area, and a lot more interpolation of data, especially on overnight shifts.


Impacts of the Storm

Snow flurries even fell as far south from this system as Florida - stretching from Tallahassee to just north of Tampa in New Port Richey sending a touch of winter to a place many go to escape it. But the bigger snows the storm was noted for fell much further north, reaching as much as 48 inches in Snowshoe, West Virginia. In the most severely impacted areas, transportation was crippled for days, municipalities struggled to clear the snow and find places to put it, mail service was briefly halted from Atlantic City, NJ to Albany, NY, numerous roofs caved in from the weight of the snow damaging structures, schools and businesses closed for days, and newspaper delivery -- along with other supply delivery -- was halted. Many people were stuck at roadside rest stops. Along the coast, flooding occurred and the onshore flow resulted in the bizarre site at Atlantic City, NJ of hundreds of clam shells washing ashore into mounds on the beach. The snowpack in many areas reached over 2 feet and, with additional snows and cold following the storm, laid on the ground until a warm up later in January with a heavy rainfall that took place and resulted in major river flooding.

Some Selected Snowfall Totals

Boston, MA

18.2 inches

Providence, RI

24.0 inches

Hartford, CT

15.8 inches

New York City (Central Park), NY

20.2 inches

Islip, NY

17.0 inches

Newark, NJ

27.8 inches

Philadelphia, PA

30.7 inches

Harrisburg, PA

22.2 inches

Avoca (Scranton), PA

21.0 inches

Wilmington, DE

22.0 inches

Baltimore, MD

22.5 inches

Washington, D.C. (National)

17.1 inches

Dulles Airport, VA

24.6 inches

Roanoke, VA

24.9 inches

Charleston, WV

23.3 inches

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport, OH

14.4 inches







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