Snow was so deep, city had to dump it off bridges
|This map shows the extent of the Blizzard of ’96 and where the heaviest snow accumulations were during the three-day event. Snowfall totals shown above have been rounded to the nearest inch.|
When it comes to notorious winter weather events throughout history, only a select few are remembered by name. The Blizzard of 1996 is one of them.
It’s one of the defining winter storms of the 20th century and is still a record-holder to this date for several cities. A true blockbuster storm, this nor’easter walloped the Eastern Seaboard in a manner that few snowstorms in the past have been able to do. Over the course of Jan. 6-8, 1996, it blanketed areas from central North Carolina to southern Maine, while immobilizing the Northeast corridor for days.
To this day, the Blizzard of ’96 remains Philadelphia’s single biggest snowstorm on record with a total of 30.7 inches. Elsewhere, nearly 2 feet fell in New York City, and 18 inches were measured in Boston. Those totals were substantial but still fell short of the largest accumulations in western Virginia and the mountains of West Virginia where amounts between 40 and 48 inches fell, according to the National Weather Service.
The storm unleashed howling winds that whipped up snowdrifts around 5 to 8 feet in spots, nearly covering stranded vehicles left on motorways around the region. As the storm ramped up, it produced prolific snowfall rates of 1-4 inches per hour from Pennsylvania into southern New England, while buffering the coasts with gale-force winds and triggering coastal flooding.
An analysis of the storm by the NWS blamed at least 60 fatalities on the blizzard. Many of the deaths were due to people suffering heart attacks while shoveling snow. States of emergency were declared across the region.
AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dave Dombek, who has spent more than four decades issuing forecasts for the company, said he remembered that there was a „classic” atmospheric setup that allowed the blizzard to take shape.
Polar Vortex Could Split in Two Creating Harsh Winter in U.S.
Image via Getty/Gary Hershorn
According to the Washington Post, experts believe that a sudden stratospheric warming event could affect the polar vortex. If strong enough, it could weaken and force the vortex off of the North Pole, causing pieces of it to split in two and make its way south. The polar vortex is the circulation of air around low pressure that acts as a repository for some of the coldest air on the planet. If it were to travel south, it would create extremely cold winters for Northern Europe, Asia, and North America—including the United States.
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Winds in the polar vortex normally circulate from west to east around the North Pole. But, rapid warming has forced the winds to sack. The temperatures could even force the winds to reverse, which will increase the chances of the vortex breaking off and traveling south. This could lead to colder temperatures, harsher winds, slower-moving snow storms, and more.
Although it’s not confirmed, the polar vortex could already be splitting due to a stratospheric temperature spike. Now, seasonal forecasters like Judah Cohen of Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Massachusetts are trying to accurately predict how winter weather may ensue in the United States by tracking to see how events in the stratosphere impact the troposphere (the layer of the atmosphere where most of the weather occurs).While this might be significant news, Cohen understands that this doesn’t matter unless it impacts people. He also notes that the conditions between the stratosphere and troposphere are not well understood. As an example, he explained that similar warming occurred last year and the polar vortex stayed intact.”No one is going to care until there is snow in people’s backyards,” Cohen said.