Summary for January 1996
The year began with a significant winter storm tracking northeast from the lower Mississippi Valley. It spread moderate to heavy snow from central Missouri to central New England. A mixture of snow, ice and rain fell in the lower Ohio Valley, northern Middle Atlantic States and along the southern New England Coast. Weather balloons indicated a jet maximum of over 130 knots attendant with this storm. Rochester, New York set a new all-time 24-hour record snowfall as 23 inches fell on January 3rd.
A frigid air mass then seeped southward into the northern half of the nation. Readings fell to near -40F in the northern Great Lakes and to -35F in upstate New York on January 5-6. By the morning of January 5, snow covered the ground as far south central Arkansas to the Middle Atlantic Coast. This became the path of the next storm, which follows along the temperature difference established along a natural boundary like snow-cover. Meanwhile, places from St. Louis to New York and Boston already had their normal seasonal snowfall before the end of the first week of January.
The total snowfall from the blizzard of January 7-8, 1996
The event of the month was the great blizzard that struck on Sunday and Monday, January 7-8,1996. An Arctic air mass covered New England as a massive cut-off low developed over Virginia. This storm was energized by a 60 degree surface temperature contrast across western Montana which propelled a 175 mile an hour wind in the jet stream southward into the Plains causing the large disturbance to form. This brought excessive snowfall from western North Carolina to southern New England. Philadelphia, PA and Newark, NJ each measured over 30 inches in 24-hours, new records. The region from southwest Virginia to eastern Massachusetts had between one and two feet of snow. The eastern slopes of the Appalachians from northern Virginia to central Pennsylvania measured more than 3 feet of snow. York county in southern Pennsylvania had over 38 inches. The 35 inches that fell in White House Station, New Jersey set a new state record for snowfall on January 7-8, 1996. Meanwhile, Cincinnati, OH also recorded its record 24-hour snowfall of 14.4 inches as the large upper level storm brought a band of heavy snow to southwest Ohio.
A small, but intense high level disturbance triggered another 2-5 inches of snow from Washington, DC to Philadelphia on January 9-10 and another six inches accumulated around Cape Cod. Meanwhile, a new storm, much faster moving and weaker, raced northward along the East Coast bringing a changeover from snow to rain from the Atlantic Seaboard to the western suburbs of the large cities from Washington, DC to New York. The urban complexes received 2-4 inches of snow before changing to rain. A narrow band (about 80 miles wide) had heavy snow with 8-12 inches falling from northern Virginia into the lower Susquehanna Valley and between 12-24 inches accumulating in the upper Susquehanna Valley, the Poconos and the Catskills. By the time the snow ended early Saturday, January 13, much of eastern Pennsylvania measured nearly 4 feet of snow on the ground and some sections had well over 5 feet!
The jet stream underwent another rapid change with a flood of Pacific air reaching into the nation as fast westerlies returned during the week of January 14-20. A mound of warm air built over the Rockies with the mercury soaring to 59F at Alta, Utah, their all-time January maximum. The warmer air spread steadily east, reaching the Atlantic Seaboard at mid-week. Meanwhile, strong Pacific storms came crashing into the West Coast with gales and heavy rain in Northern California.
A sharp cold front pushed across the Plains and into the Mississippi Valley on January 17 causing the mercury to plummet 19 degrees in one hour at Alliance, NE. A wide swath of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico produced moderate to heavy rains from the lower Mississippi Valley to the Ohio Valley. The first widespread outbreak of thunderstorms accompanied the front through the South.
A fierce jet stream disturbance brought winds over 60 miles an hour for nearly six consective hours with a gust to 130 miles an hour at Guadalupe in western Texas on January 17. The winds at 5,000 feet ahead of this front were over 90 miles an hour as the front neared the East Coast on Friday morning, January 19. An incredible temperature contrast was established across the front; Omaha, NE read 5F with heavy snow and a north wind at 30 miles an hour while Kansas City, MO was 55F with rain and a south wind at 20 miles an hour. Unusually humid air for mid-January streamed north ahead of the front causing rapid snowmelt in the East. Many locations in Pennsylvania lost 20 inches of snow cover in one day, the equivalent of 2 inches of rainfall! When the cold front arrived, a line of heavy thunderstorms accompanied the front bringing two to three inches of rain to the Northeast. The result was one of the greatest winter flash-floods in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. All streams and major rivers rose out their banks in less than 12 hours and many rampaged through unsuspecting communities as huge ice jams broke sending torrents through some towns. It was the worst flooding in 20 years along the large rivers in Pennsylvania (since Hurricane Eloise in Sept, 1975). Damage estimates have come to nearly $1 billion for personal property from this single event.
Spring Mills, Centre County, PA on Friday Afternoon, January 19, 1996
Oddly, this phenomenal meltdown and flood also brought another meteoritic rise in temperature at Caribou, ME for the third January in a row. The mercury rose 73 degrees, from -22 to +51, in just over two days. This matched the rise in January 27-28,1994, but fell far short of the fantastic climb last year when the temperature jumped 86 degrees from a January record low to an all-time January maximum in less than four days.
The weather action shifted West for the remainder of the month as a series of Pacific storms and fronts brought increasingly heavy rain to the Pacific Northwest until the last weekend of the month. Another active cold front brought one to two inches of rain to the Northeast on January 26-27. This brought some streams and small rivers back over flood stage, but only for a day or so. This final rain storm helped raise precipitation totals to near January records for many section in the Northeast. This rainstorm was accompanied by gale force winds on the New England Coast and was responsible for driving a large oil tanker onto a rocky Rhode Island shore. Eleven inches of snow buried Bellingham, WA on January 24 as frigid air poured west of the Cascades. This was the beginning of a great Arctic outbreak which steadily spread across the nation by the months end. Even Hawaii suffered with snow on its summits on January 25-26 and heavy rain over the Big Island as a Kona low brought unsettled weather to the 50th state.
|Monthly Weather Summaries for the Nation in 1997|
|Monthly Weather Summaries for the Nation in 1996|