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Remembering the Blizzard of 1996

January 6, 2013

By WeatherBug Meteorologist, Chad Merrill

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Just as large stretches of the East fall back into a quiet weather pattern following the rash of winter storms during Christmas week, the weather was anything but calm on this date 17 years ago. One of the top 20 most memorable blizzards wreaked havoc on the East Coast January 6 through January 9, 1996.

A classic nor`easter developed in the Gulf of Mexico, tracked through the Southeast and then bombed out along the Mid-Atlantic coast. The abundant moisture and slow movement helped produce copious snowfall totals.

Two to 3 feet pummeled the Mid-Atlantic and New England with localized amounts of 4 feet in western Virginia and West Virginia along Interstate 81. A total of 19 to 31 inches of wind-whipped snow that produced 5 to 8 foot snow drifts brought the Interstate 95 corridor from Washington to Boston to a standstill for 5 days. Wind gusts reached 40 to 60 mph near Cape Cod with 5 to 8 foot snow drifts reported.

Here are a few snowfall records set during the Blizzard of `96:

  • Manhattan`s Central Park got 21 inches, the third highest snowfall total for an individual storm.

  • Boston received 18.2 inches, which produced a snow depth of 30 inches (from existing snow on the ground). This eclipsed the former all-time snow depth of 29 inches in February 1978.
  • Philadelphia was blasted with the most snow ever recorded from a single snowstorm, getting 30.7 inches.
  • Roanoke and Lynchburg, Va., recorded their all-time highest 24-hour snowfall totals of 22.5 and 22 inches respectively.
  • Charleston, W.Va., received its second highest snowfall and second greatest snow depth with 19.1 inches recorded.
  • Big Meadows, Va., got 59 inches of snow, which set Virginia`s record for the greatest 2-day snowfall of all-time.
  • Wilmington, Del., got 49 inches, which set Delaware`s greatest 4-day snowfall record.
  • Harrisburg, Pa., received 22.2 inches, which was the city`s second highest snowfall total on record and highest ever for January.
  • The storm caused 60 deaths, with the majority of these fatalities resulting from heart attack victims shoveling snow. Total losses from the storm are estimated to be $1 billion. The storm caused an 80-car train to derail near Blacksburg, Va., and the heavy weight of all the snow collapsed mobile home roofs.

    In the nation`s capital, federal and local governments were closed for days, metro-rail transit did not run above ground stations and the storm hit during a tough economic time. Retailers were already suffering lost sales due to a long stretch of government layoffs and budget uncertainty. Along the south shore of Long Island, a 50-year old Casino bar and restaurant in Davis Park was swept into the Atlantic while Gilgo Beach lost 50 to 75 feet of sand.

    How significant of a storm was it? The Blizzard of 1996 ranks just below the Superstorm of 1993 in the list of the biggest U.S. snowstorms in the U.S. since 1888. The most significant one was March 11-12, 1888 when upwards of 50 inches dumped in Connecticut and Massachusetts with 40 inches burying New Jersey and New York.

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