20th Anniversary of the Blizzard of '96

Posted: January 5, 2016, 1:24 pm by mmurphy


Infrared satellite image courtesy of NOAA at 1015 PM, January 6, 1996. Notice the clouds and moisture surging out of the Gulf of Mexico.


Today marks 20 years since one of the most remarkable blizzards in recent memory wreaked havoc across the Northeast January 6 - 8, 1996. Not only did it dump snow from northern Georgia all the way into southern Maine, but it buried the major cities of the I - 95 corridor from D.C to Boston with 15 - 30 inches of snow! Of course, who can forget the intense winds that followed the snow which piled snow drifts as high as 5 to 8 feet!

The blizzard formed as a sprawling, strong area of high pressure extended from the Plains into the Northeastern US, providing ample cold air. Then, a strong upper level disturbance diving into the Tennessee Valley ushered in copious moisture from the Gulf of Mexico into the Northeast. The moisture pushed over (or overran) the cold, arctic air in place, dumping very heavy snow over a wide area January 6th into the 7th. During the nighttime hours from January 7th to the 8th, the coastal low took over, prolonging the heavy snow and providing strong winds into the day on the 8th that led to very high snow drifts.

Surprisingly, the storm was not really an official blizzard for most areas. Remember for a storm to be classified as a blizzard, according to the National Weather Service, there must be three consecutive hours of sustained winds or frequent wind gusts to 35 mph with falling or blowing snow that frequently reduces visibility to one quarter mile or less. The only weather station to meet the textbook definition of a blizzard was the Trenton-Mercer Airport in New Jersey. Even though many stations did not register blizzard conditions for the textbook three hour time frame, the storm still had immense effects and nearly paralyzed the region for numerous days.

The picture above-left is from WeatherWorks Meteorologist Mike Mihalik's home in Nazareth, PA, January 8, 1996 about 10 miles northeast of Allentown, PA.

The map above is the official Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale for the Blizzard of 1996, created by NOAA. Notice the large area from New York City extending into West Virginia that recorded more than 20 inches of snow!


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