Just as the Washington area is breaking out of a chilly, but dry weather pattern in early January, the weather 17 years ago on this date was one many area residents won’t forget.
What started out as a low pressure across the central Gulf Coast on January 6, 1996 intensified as it turned the corner to the Southeast Atlantic Coast. The low pressure then swung north along the coast, tapping into the warmer Gulf Stream water and excellent upper-level support. By January 8, a strong low pressure was just off the Mid-Atlantic Coast.
The end result was a major, historical snow storm that unfolded across the Washington region (and the entire Mid-Atlantic and Northeast).
♦ Reagan National got slammed with 17.3 inches, which was the fifth largest 3-day snowfall ever recorded at the airport.
♦ Dulles International (with weather records only dating back to 1962), got 24.6 inches, making the Blizzard of ’96 the second biggest 3-day snowfall.
♦ Baltimore measured 26.6 inches, making the second place rank for top 3-day snowfalls.
Higher totals were found in the western suburbs. The Shenandoah Valley got clocked with up to 30 inches of snow. Strong winds produced drifts of 5 to 8 feet! Even the beaches got slammed with snow with 10 inches in Ocean City!
The storm had a domino effect not only on travel and transportation but the economy. Washington was shut down for 3 days with only limited transportation of goods for a week. Metro-rail transit was discontinued at all above ground stations for just about the entire week. The Federal and local governments were closed. Unfortunately, retailers already suffering from loss of sales due to government layoffs and budget uncertainty had to close down stores and malls, leading to an even greater economic loss.
In total, there were 31 deaths in Maryland and Virginia. Most fatalities were due to people suffering heart attacks while shoveling snow, four were related to car accidents and three were linked to hypothermia. One resulted from a metro-rail accident in Maryland.
To make matters worse, two additional snow events later that week added to the misery. A storm originating in Alberta, Canada, that skirted across the northern tier into the Mid-Atlantic (known as an “Alberta Clipper”) dropped another 3 to 5 inches of snow on January 9 while a third storm struck Friday, January 12 dumping another 4 to 6 inches in the D.C. area. A grand total of 2 to 3 feet of snow on the ground and on buildings caused 3 roof collapses, including a nursing home in Clinton, Md., a church in Springfield, Va., and a school in the District.
Photo courtesy of the Washington Post
Here’s how the 1996 Blizzard ranks with respect to other 3-day major winter storms in D.C. history:
1. January 27-29, 1922 (Knickerbocker Storm): 28 inches
2. February 12-14, 1899: (Great Eastern Blizzard of '99) 20 inches
3. January 7-9, 1996 (Blizzard of ’96): 16.3 inches of snow
In more recent memory, the December 2009 blizzard produced the third highest 1-day snowfall record for D.C. with 15.0 inches while the February 5-6, 2010 blizzard produced 17.8 inches in two days; the 4th highest 2-day snowfall total in Washington’s history.