From the ABC 7 Weather team

Remembering the Great Nor’easter of 1992

December 9, 2012 - 06:37 PM
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The term Nor’easter usually gets much attention this time of the year and there was no exception to that rule 20 years ago today.

So far since October, one Nor’easter has plowed up the coast bringing heavy snow north and east of the District from eastern Pennsylvania into New England. A much stronger one walloped the East Coast December 10-12, 1992, so much so that it was termed the Great Nor’easter of December 1992.

The storm began to form on this day 20 years across the Texas Panhandle. By the next day a strong high pressure positioned across the East began to retreat a bit as the low moved towards the Mississippi Valley. Upper-level energy helped strengthen the low as it moved to the North Carolina Coast on December 11th. The low reached then bombed out or reached near peak intensity late on December 11th through the 12th.

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A METEOSAT-3 satellite image of the December 1992 Nor'easter.

The end result was a massive Nor’easter that produced tremendous damage from New Jersey to New England and locally brought a gamut of weather conditions. Wind-whipped heavy rain inundated the Chesapeake Bay region with 120,000 customers without power. Moderate flooding was observed in Ocean City, Md., with high winds. General rainfall amounts of 1-2 inches fell in the District but it was a whole different ball game west of the Blue Ridge.

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Western Maryland was on the Nor’easter’s far western flank so enough cold air was in place for a heavy, wet snow to fall. As a matter of fact, the Great Nor’easter of 1992 was one of the worst winter storms for the Maryland mountains. Areas around Hagerstown, Md., got up to 6 inches but that was nothing compared to the remainder of western Maryland. Eastern Allegany County accumulated two feet of snow with Frostburg, Md., on the eastern slope of the Allegheny Ridge at about 2,000 feet measuring 3 feet of fresh powder.

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The storm proved to be a major snow menace even farther west. A weather observer from Piney Dam in Garrett County tallied 42 inches of snow. Winds whipped across the Alleghenies, creating drifts to 20 feet with trucks stranded on Interstate 68. Trees and power lines were knocked down and some people were trapped in their homes for days. About 10 people had to be rescued.

The storm was enough to push December 1992 to the brink of the snowiest December on record for McHenry, Md., with a monthly total of 55.5 inches. Even though the far western mountains of Maryland typically see more snow than the remainder of the state, the average for December is roughly 30 inches in Garrett County.

It wasn’t just a hard-hitting storm locally; it caused about $270-million in insured damages to property along the New Jersey coast, according to a government report.

Here is the official report on the Great Nor’easter of December 1992 prepared by the National Weather Service Disaster Survey Team. A few key points highlighted in this report include the following:

♦ Record water levels were reached along the Mid-Atlantic Coast, including Sandy Hook, N.J., and Reedy Point, Del.

♦ Waves reached as high as 23 feet along the Massachusetts coast.

♦ As much as 48 inches of snow blanketed western Massachusetts, including Beckett, Savoy and Peru, Mass. (the Berkshires).

♦ Ambrose Tower just outside of New York recorded a sustained wind of 81 mph with gusts to 93 mph.

♦ The storm impacted three times the number of homes and buildings of the combined total from the Halloween Nor’easter of 1991 and Hurricane Bob in the same year.

♦ In total 9 people died in the storm. For more on the Great Nor’easter of 1992’s impact along the East Coast, click on the PDF document indicated on this link here.

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