The Top Ten Weather Events of 2016

Posted: December 27, 2016, 9:35 pm by jmartucci

(Image courtesy of under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0)

2016, oh what a year you were. From Brexit to the Presidential Elections, from the new $20 bill to the Olympics and from the eradication of measles in the Americas to the deaths of many famous celebrities, it’s fair to say that the year that has come and gone will be one for the books. Even here at WeatherWorks, 2016 was a notable one. We celebrated our 30th anniversary (that's right we started in 1986!) and reached 4,000 likes on Facebook.

What about the weather itself, though? Well let’s just say there was something for everybody. Our list spans seven different months (not including a long-lasting event, more on that later) and covers a full spectrum of events. Explore the list below and relive the year that was. Do note, that these events are for the Midwest and Northeast, where the majority of our Storm Alert clients are located.

Blizzard of 2016

The first top ten event on our list was also one of the biggest Nor’easters on record (it was a Category 4 event on the Regional Snowfall Index). High winds and heavy snow led to blizzard conditions across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. An intense snowfall gradient set up from north of I-80 in New Jersey and Eastern PA to the lower Hudson Valley and Connecticut. While over two feet of snow fell in our Hackettstown, NJ office in Warren County, just 50 miles north, there was close to nothing. There was some back and forth over what the snowfall totals actually amounted to, but numerous all-time records were broken, such as at BWI Airport (29.2”), New York City’s Central Park (27.5”) and Harrisburg, PA (30.2”).

(True-Color Satellite Image after the Blizzard of 2016, courtesy of MODIS)

Valentine’s Day Cold Snap in the Northeast

After the blizzard, historic arctic air locked in just a few weeks later on Valentine’s Day, setting daily record lows across much of the Northeast. Boston dipped below 0, bottoming out at -1 degree, as did Central Park. A little further north, the weather had no love for Albany, NY, bottoming out at -16 degrees, while Mount Washington, NH was an astounding -40 degrees! Wind chills ranged from -25 to -35 degrees for much of the morning, as the coldest air in decades took hold.


Large Scale (Synoptic) Midwest Wind Event on February 19th

Just a few days later, another top ten event would strike, this time in the Midwest. A very intense low pressure system, ranked in the lowest 1% of cyclone strength, channeled in the strong winds. The highest gusts topped out at 60 – 70 mph consistently during the day, with a 73 mph gust at Chicago’s Harrison-Dever Crib, right off the shore. Scattered areas of downed trees, a tipped-over gas station roof and a few structure collapses resulted. 

(Strong winds caused this gas station to topple over in Illinois, courtesy of Andy Demote.) 


Late Season Snowstorm in New England

Though we were safely in spring (both meteorologically and astronomically), winter did not give up on April 3rd, 4th and 5th. Two systems brought accumulating snow to much of New England. The first system was a strong coastal low pressure, containing heavy snow and very gusty winds. Many places had wind gusts of 40-60 mph! The second system was a clipper system. Two day snowfall totals exceeded 6 inches in many New England locations, including Provincetown out on Cape Cod (7.2”), Providence (6.0”) and Plymouth, MA (8.5”)

Torrential Flooding in Ellicott City, MD

Our longest gap, time wise, in the top ten list occurred from April to July, then another event broke that streak on July 29th to the 31st. A low pressure system brought beneficial rain for many in the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic. However, some saw repeated, slow-moving, back-building thunderstorms that brought heavy rainfall in a short period of time. One of these places was Ellicott City, MD, where the historic district became devastated by flash flooding. The floodwater claimed the lives of two people as 6.6” of rain fell in three hours on that Saturday night, a one in thousand year event.

(Annual Exceedance Probabilities for the Worst Case 3-Hour Rainfall, courtesy of NOAA.)

Mid-August Northeast Heat

A strong ridge of high pressure led to very hot temperatures and dangerous heat indices a couple of weeks later, from August 10th to the 17th. Temperatures soared into the upper 90s along most of the I-95 corridor, with localized triple digit heat. The nation’s capital saw the brunt of the heat, with Reagan Airport topping out over 100 degrees, three days in a row! Not only that but it was sultry when you factored in the dew points. As it turns out, August 2016 was the hottest August on record in (by abbreviation): MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA, DE and MD.

New England Drought

With all of this heat came dry weather and with the dry weather arose a drought in New England. The University of Nebraska’s Drought Monitor placed much of the area in a “severe” to “extreme” drought (a D2 and D3 out of D0 to D5). During 2016, stations in New England were running 7” – 15” below average precipitation. Although, until early summer, this area was on track for an average year. At the time of this writing (the last week in December) 44% of the Northeast is still in some form of a drought.

(Drought Status as of September 27th, 2016, courtesy of the Drought Monitor.)

Hurricane Matthew

Going from dry to wet, let’s talk tropics and Hurricane Matthew. Matthew rapidly intensified, going from a Category 1 Hurricane to a powerful Category 5 in 24 hours on September 30th. As a result, it became the first Category 5 storm in the Atlantic since 2007. It passed through the Caribbean Islands as a major hurricane, leaving a trail of devastation. As it moved toward the United States, strong winds and heavy rainfall impacted eastern Florida holding just offshore on October 6th and 7th. In fact, NOAA’s next generation satellite, GOES-R, had to postpone its launch date as a result of the storm, since it was being stored at Kennedy Space Center. Closer to our WeatherWorks Storm Alert regions, flooding occurred into the Hampton Roads of Virginia, claiming the lives of two people.

Winter Starts Early in the Northeast

The winter season was kicked off early here at WeatherWorks, as a low pressure system brought the first accumulating snow to many places in New England on October 27th. Enough snow fell that the plows had to be dusted off early, with 1.7” in Albany, NY and 2.5” in Pittsfield, MA. Snow wasn’t the only form of precipitation causing impacts in the Northeast, as many places in northeast Pennsylvania and northern New England had freezing rain. This may be a pattern, or coincidence, as widespread snow events occurred in October in 2011, 2012 and 2015 as well.

Prolonged December Midwest Freeze

Finally, the Midwest joins the top ten list for the winter of 2016-2017. Yes, they did start with quite a bit of snow, but the brutal shots of arctic air gives them the last spot in our recap. From December 13th to December 20th, low temperatures held below zero for much of the Midwest and were up to 35 degrees below average for this time of the year. Rockford, IL broke the record for the lowest maximum temperature on the 15th, only rising to 9 degrees on the thermometer.

That is it! We thank you for reading all about the outstanding year of weather in 2016. Will 2017 be as eventful as 2016? While that remains to be seen, follow us every step of the way on our Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat accounts.

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