Today’s wintry mix not much, compared to 13 years ago…


It was “The Blizzard of ’96” and it all started coming together 13 years ago today.   Posted below is the summary from the National Weather Service’s Storm Data Archive.

Tom Tasselmyer

An historic winter storm, known as the “Blizzard of ’96”, crippled all of Maryland west of the Chesapeake Bay during the first full weekend of January. In general, snow totals were as follows: 20 inches in lower southern Maryland, 20 to 26 inches in central Maryland, and 26 to 36 inches to over the northern tier. To complicate matters, winds gusting in excess of 35 mph produced drifts of 4 to 7 feet, except over 10 feet in the mountains. The storm produced the largest statewide storm totals since the “Megalopolitan Storm” of February 11th, 1983.

Numerous 24-hour accumulation records were shattered at airports from southwest Virginia through New England; Baltimore/Washington International nearly equaled its record of 22.8 inches in 24 hours (22.5 inches fell), set in 1983.

The storm was induced by a digging upper level trough over the eastern Great Plains. At the surface, an inverted trough extended from the Gulf of Mexico through the Deep South. Surface pressures began falling as the upper trough approached on the afternoon of the 7th. Meanwhile, confluent flow, behind an upper-level arctic vortex over the Canadian Maritimes, maintained strong (1034 mb) surface high pressure over northern New York State. As the upper-level trough approached the southeast U.S. on the 8th, a new surface low developed along the Georgia coast. The low deepened explosively while the arctic high remained in place.

Copious Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic moisture was entrained into the system, producing heavy snow; the increasing gradient between the intensifying low and the arctic high caused winds to strengthen to 25 mph with gusts to 35 mph.

The system moved slowly from South Carolina to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay overnight on the 7th. The slow movement prolonged near-blizzard conditions into the 8th. The storm finally moved towards New England later on the 8th, ending the snow but maintaining gusty north winds (and substantial blowing and drifting snow) until evening.

The storm effectively closed all major highways on the 7th, but interstates were “open” by the 8th, even though snow removal equipment fought a losing battle with the considerable blowing and drifting snow. The Washington subway system suffered several above-ground mishaps in Maryland. Shortly after the onset of the storm, a train, with three persons aboard (including the driver), slid into another in central Montgomery Co., killing the driver. The following evening, 80 passengers were stranded when a train got stuck between stations. Many above-ground stations remained closed throughout the following work week.

Two persons perished directly from hypothermia the day after the blizzard. Over 150 injuries were reported at area hospitals and clinics shortly after the blizzard, most due to over-exertion from shoveling snow, but some due to slipping on ice.

All federal, state, and local governments were closed Monday (the 8th) and Tuesday (the 9th). Most school districts remained closed for the week. A federal state of emergency was declared the following Friday (the 12th). Snow removal/damage costs exceeded $70 million (state and county combined), a state record for an individual winter storm. The vast majority was incurred by snow removal operations; another $3.7 million was budgeted for repairs to highways including potholes, guard rails, and side banks.

The weight of the snow caused several area roofs to collapse. In Clinton, MD, the roof of a nursing home dining room caved in at 0730 EST on the 8th, displacing up to 120 residents. Fortunately, disaster was averted because breakfast was served in the dormitories rather than in the dining room due to staff shortages. No injuries were reported. In Frederick Co., a barn collapsed, killing 100 cows and injuring about 100 more. Two barns collapsed in Clear Spring, MD, and 100 cows escaped unharmed.


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