by Barbara McNaught Watson
Maryland's greatest winter storms
are the "Nor'easters" or what some call the "White
Hurricane". To get heavy snow across the State, you must first have an
arctic air mass in place. High pressure builds over New England. Cold, arctic
air flows south from the high. The dense cold air is unable to move westward
over the Appalachian Mountains, so it funnels south down the valleys and along
the Coastal Plain. This is called "cold air damming". To the east of
the cold air is the warm water of the Gulf Stream. The contrast of the cold air
sliding south into the Carolinas and the warm air sitting over the Gulf Stream
creates a breeding ground for storms. With the right meteorological conditions
such as the position of the jet stream, storm development off the Carolinas may
become "explosive" (sudden, rapid intensification; a dramatic drop in
the central pressure of the storm).
In February 1994, a series of ice
storms struck Maryland. The region had been long over due for an ice
storm, but it was unprecedented to have several occur one after the other. Ice
storms are not an uncommon event in the valleys and foothills to the
east of the Appalachian Mountains. Utility company records show the frequency
with which fallen wires need to be repaired. The set up is not completely unlike
that for a snow storm. High pressure over New England funnels cold dry air south
over the state. The air tries to push west but can not rise over the Appalachian
Mountains and becomes trapped on the east side. A storm moves northeast from the
southern plains or Gulf Coast region. Instead of passing south and east of
Virginia, it moves up the west slopes of the Appalachians. Warm, moist air rises
over the mountains and the trapped cold air on the east side. Precipitation
begins (See diagram above).
In western Maryland, another type
of snow storm can cause significant accumulations over Garrett County and
Allegany County west of Cumberland. This is called "Lake Effect Snow".
Winds out of the northwest blow across the Great Lakes. In the early winter, the
lakes are still quite warm. As the air moves across Lake Erie, it is warmed by
the water beneath. Evaporation occurs which increases the amount of water vapor
(or humidity) in the air. The warmer, moister air off the lake's surface begins
to rise (as steam would from a kettle). As the air rises, it cools forming
clouds and snow. Streets of clouds or snow bands can be seen on satellite
streaming off Lake Erie, across Pennsylvania, into the Appalachian Mountains in
Maryland. These are called "Snow Squalls". One minute
the sun is shining and the next it is windy and snowing heavily. As the air
rises up the west side of the Appalachians into areas such as Garrett County,
Maryland, the snow intensifies.
Other types of weather systems generally do not cause major problems for Maryland. Storms such as the "Alberta Clipper," a fast moving storm from the region around Alberta, Canada, or a cold front sweeping through from the west, generally does not bring more than 2 to 4 inches of snow. An unusually strong clipper hit Maryland just a day after snow ended from the January 1996 Blizzard and dropped a surprise 4 to 5 inches from DC, northeast across Baltimore.
MARYLAND'S HISTORIC WINTER EXTREMES:
Information on weather goes back a long time in the Mid-Atlantic Region, thanks to early record keeping by weather observers such as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Listed below are some of the historic winter storms, cold waves, and dramatic temperature changes to impact the state.
January 28, 1772: This storm was named the "Washington and Jefferson Snow Storm" since both of their diaries recorded it. The storm left 36 inches of snow (3 feet) in the Washington area. Official weather records did not begin until after the Civil War. Therefore, this storm is not listed in the record books, but it did produce the greatest snow this area has seen since the early settlements.
Winter of 1779-1780: This winter was so cold that ice was piled 20 feet high along the Delmarva Coast and stayed there until spring! The upper portion of the Chesapeake Bay froze, allowing people to walk from Annapolis to Kent Island.
February 24, 1852: The Susquehanna River ice bridge at Havre de Grace broke up after 40 days of use. 1378 loaded freight cars crossed the bridge on rails laid on the ice.
January 16-18, 1857: This was the "great blizzard and freeze". More than a foot of snow fell with temperatures near zero. Strong winds caused structural damage on land and wrecked ships at sea. Great drifts blocked transportation through the state. Richmond was cut off from Baltimore and Washington for seven days. Norfolk, Virginia was buried under 20 foot drifts of snow! The cold became so extreme that all Maryland and Virginia rivers froze. The Chesapeake Bay was solid ice a mile and a half out from its coastline. At Cape Henry (at the mouth of the Chesapeake), one could walk out 100 yards from the lighthouse on the frozen ocean.
December 1880: Parts of western and central Maryland received nearly two feet of snow which aided in plummeting temperatures. The coldest temperatures occurred between December 30, 1880, and January 1, 1881. Baltimore dropped to -6° F, Emmitsburg -19° F, Woodstock (Howard County) -17° F, and Northwest Washington, DC was -15° F.
April 9, 1884: A late season snow storm surprised the Baltimore area with 8 inches of snow.
March 11-13, 1888: The Blizzard of '88 was also
known as the White Hurricane. The storm began in Maryland the
morning of March 11 and by evening, the Baltimore-Washington corridor and
surrounding area was an ice-entangled mess with fallen tree limbs, electric
lines and downed telegraph poles. The city was completely blacked out with the
exception of a few gas lights. On the morning of the 12th, people arose to find
a half a foot to a foot of snow and ice blanketing the city with up to a foot
outside the city. Winds blew up to 48 mph taking down any utility poles left
standing. All communication was cut off to the outside world. It took a week to
restore the links and for Washington to find out that Baltimore and New York had
been hit even harder. By storms end, New York was buried under 21 inches of
snow. Temperatures had been in the single digits and teens and the wind roared
at 35 mph with gusts up to 75 mph blowing drifts to 20 feet deep burying some
homes and buildings.
April 10-12, 1894: What made this Mid-Atlantic Nor'easter unique was how late in the season it struck. The whirling snow and gale winds made the storm the most severe in many years in Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia where snow was 20 to 24 inches deep blocking transportation.
February 1899: The Great Arctic Outbreak of '99 and the Great Eastern Blizzard of '99 occurred this month. Back to back snowstorms sandwiched an extreme cold wave. On February 5 to 8, a great blizzard struck the Mid-Atlantic Region. Baltimore received almost a foot of snow and Washington 14 inches. As the storm moved out, record cold settled in and on the morning of the 10th Laurel recorded a low of -18° F and on the 11th, Washington, DC recorded a record -15° F. A second blizzard struck on Valentine's Day dropping 20 inches in Washington and 21 in Baltimore. An amazing 34 inches fell on Cape May, NJ. Snow depths reached 34 inches in DC to 41 inches at Cape May! That would put about 3 feet of snow on the ground over central and eastern Maryland! Winds drove the snow into 10 foot drifts. These blocked transportation lines to the cities causing a major coal shortage that resulted in rationing. Food was also rationed, though not as severely as the coal. On February 16, an ice storm hit. Washington recorded its greatest monthly snow total with 35.2 inches and its greatest seasonal snowfall total with 54.4 inches. Baltimore had a record 33.9 inches for the month with a record 51.1 inches for the season (This record stood for nearly a century until 1996). Hagerstown also recorded its greatest February snow total with 31 inches for the month. The winter of 1898-1899 was so cold over a large part of the US that ice flowed from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico! This has only been recorded one other time. On February 13, 1784, ice flows blocked the Mississippi River at New Orleans and then passed into the Gulf of Mexico.
March-April, 1907: On March 22, the temperature reached 90° F in Northwest Washington, DC and 88° F in College Park. The next day, DC recorded an amazing 93° F and on the 29th 90° F again with Salisbury reaching 93°F. Even western Maryland saw 90°F with Cumberland reaching it on the 28th and Clear Springs on the 23rd. The average temperature for the last 10 days of March was 62° F. With the arrival of April came a sharp contrast. By April 2, the minimum temperature fell to 23° F in Washington and only 19° in Cumberland and 9°F in Deer Park (Garrett County). For the first 22 days of the month, the temperature averaged only 44° F. Western portions of the state saw snow on several days. The mean temperature for April was the third coldest in the last 100 years at Baltimore. The cool spell continued through May and June.
December 25-26, 1909: The "Great Christmas Snowstorm" struck the North Atlantic States hard. Maryland was on the southern edge with the Upper Eastern Shore receive over a foot and a half of snow. Delaware and eastern Pennsylvania averaged 20 inches. Philadelphia had 21 inches in 23 hours. A band of 25 inch snowfall stretched from Sudlersville in Queen Annes County to Dover, DE. Towson record 16 inches and Rockville 10 inches from the storm. The storm did its greatest damage in New England. Winds gusted to 72 mph in Rhode Island with the storm and the combination of wind and snow damaged poles and wires. People were lost with their ships and a couple people drowned in tidal flooding from the storm.
January 13-14, 1912: A Record Cold Wave settled in over the state. It began in western Maryland on January 13. Oakland (in Garrett County) recorded the state's all time record low temperature of -40° F. Deer Park was -33°F and Gransville was -25°F . In Allegany County, Westernport was -17°F and Frostburg -14°F. The next day, Hagerstown and Chewsville in Washington County reported -27° F and Keedysville -26°F. In Frederick County, Emmitsburg was -23°F and Frederick -21° F. In Carroll County, Taneytown reached -21°F, In Montgomery County, Great Falls was -21° F and Rockville was -10°F. In Prince Georges County, College Park was -26°F, Laurel -19° F, Cheltenham -16°F and Tacoma Park -8° F. In Baltimore County, Towson was -14°F. Baltimore City was -2°F, Annapolis -3°F, Leonardtown -6°F, Cambridge -5°F, Denton -11°F, Salisbury and Princess Anne -4°F.
April 3, 1915: A spring nor'easter brought the biggest late season snow on record to the Delmarva Peninsula. The storm dropped 15 inches of snow in a swath from Sudlersville (Queen Annes County) to Dover, Delaware. Ten inches of snow fell on Salisbury. This area typically gets only 8 to 10 inches total snowfall per year. It was the heaviest April snowfall on record. Baltimore received 4.5 inches of snow and Washington, DC, 3.5 inches. No snow fell west of Frederick. Near blizzard conditions were created by 30 to 35 mph winds from the northeast during the storm. Princess Anne reported damage to telegraph and telephone lines.
April 8-9, 1916: North-central Maryland was struck with a late season snowfall. Darlington in Harford County recorded a foot of snow, Towson had 9 inches, Baltimore 5 inches, College Park and Laurel received 8 inches and Union Bridge in Carroll County also had 8 inches. Washington, DC recorded less than 2 inches.
January 1918: This was the coldest January in a hundred years according to Baltimore records. Only the January of 1977 would eventually have a colder average temperature. Even today, with 190 years of records, it had the coldest average high temperatures for any January. December 1917 had also been unusually cold. Snowfall for the month was about 3 times the normal in many areas and all but the southern most portion of the state remained under a white blanket. Western Maryland saw monthly snowfall of 30 to 45 inches, central Maryland and the Upper Shore saw around two feet of snow. Southern Maryland and the Lower Eastern Shore saw around 18 inches. By the end of the month, heavy ice covered the entire Chesapeake Bay and its triburtaries south to the Potomac River. On the coast, Chincoteague Bay was also frozen with ice 10 inches thick across its mouth.
March 29, 1921: An early spring abruptly ended when a cold front passed through on the afternoon of March 28 and brought the greatest 24 hour temperature change to the state. Strong northwest winds ushered in the cold air and gave snow to Garrett County. On March 27, Westernport in Allegany County hit 90°F and Hancock in Washington County hit 91°F. By the 30th, Hancock would fall to 18°F. In Washington, it was 82°F at noon on the 28th, but after wind gusts to 50 mph behind the cold front, the temperature had fallen to 26°F by the morning of the 29th. A fall of 56°F in just 18 hours. It was typical across the state. The greatest temperature change of 67°F occurred at State Sanatorium in Frederick County. In College Park, the temperature fell from 83°F to 25°F and reached a minimum of 20°F on the 30th. The warm temperatures early in the year caused an early bloom on the fruit trees in the state. March was the warmest on record at the time. The sudden downfall of temperatures at the end of March into early April caused great damage to the crop (several millions of dollars - 1921 dollars) for the year.
January 28, 1922: Exactly 150 years after the Washington and Jefferson Storm, a powerful nor'easter brought the deepest snow of this century and the storm of record to Maryland and the District of Columbia. College Park and Cambridge both set record one day totals with 24 inches of snow in 24 hours. A maximum snow swath of 30 to 32 inches lay across southern Baltimore, eastern Howard, northern Prince Georges, northern Anne Arundel and portions of DC. Weather stations at Baltimore and Washington, DC recorded their all time greatest storm totals with 26.5 inches in Baltimore and 28 inches in Northwest Washington. Southern Maryland saw 20 inches, the Eastern Shore 8 inches, Washington County 12 inches and 25 inches in the Allegany Mountains highlands. Strong northeast winds (gisting up to 50 mph) created blizzard conditions and heavy drifting blocked roads. Some remained impassable for days. The main highways were opened in two to four days. The weight of the snow was too much for the Knickerbocker Theater on 18th Street and Columbia in Northwest DC. The roof of the theater collapsed taking the balcony down with it. It crushed 98 people to death and injured another 130. The storm became now known historically as the Knickerbocker Storm. In Baltimore, the cost of cleaning the streets was $50,000 and losses to railroads and businesses was $60,000.
April 1, 1924: This April Fools Day Storm produced the largest recorded April snowfall for Baltimore. A nor'easter brought 3 to 10 inches of snow to central Maryland. Westminister, Frederick and Freeland received 10 inches of snow, Baltimore 9.5 inches, College Park 9 inches, Aberdeen 8 inches, Chesapeake City 8 inches, . Princess Anne recorded 3 inches of sleet and thunderstorms struck areas on the Eastern Shore. A trace of snow fell on May 9, 1923. The latest seasonal measured snowfall was 0.1 inch on April 28, 1898. On April 9, 1884, 8 inches of snow fell in Baltimore marking the latest significant snow for a season.
February 1926: Two coastal storms (nor'easters) struck this month. The first one hit on February 3-4 and dropped 11 to 19 inches of snow across western Washington County and Allegany and Garrett Counties and brought a coating of ice to the Baltimore region and high winds to the Upper Eastern Shore. The second storm hit on February 9-10 and dropped heavy snow across all but the Lower Eastern Shore. Snowfall amounts ranged from 10 to 13 inches in the Allegheny Mountain region with 10 inches in Montgomery, Howard, northern Prince Georges, Baltimore, Harford and Cecil Counties. The heaviest band of snow, 14 to 16 inches, fell across Kent and northern Queen Annes Counties. Snow drifted badly on the 11th.
April 27-28, 1928: A late season heavy snow storm struck western Maryland. A nor'easter brough heavy snow, sleet and rain to Frederick, Washington, and Allegany Counties with rain and gale force winds east of there. The Allegany Mountain highlands received 25 to 30 inches of snow. It melted within two to three days causing the upper Potomac River to flood. Telegraph, telephone and electric services were completely knocked out. Damages to these services were estimated at $200,000 (1928) dollars. High winds accompanied the storm. In Middletown, Frederick County, a number of houses were unroofed and many trees were uprooted, signs and outbuildings blown down, and the baseball park granstand was demolished. In Baltimore, the press stand at the stadium was unroofed, severl plate glass store windows blown in, signs and billboards blowndown, and trees were uprooted.
March 6-7 and 27-28, 1932: A strong storm on March 6-7 struck
from Virginia to New York with heavy snow and high winds. Three to 7 inches fell
in Allegany region, 6 to 9 inches over the Blue Ridge region, and 3 to 6 inches
between the two. Rain fell to the east. Strong northwest winds on the back side
of the storm caused heavy drifting. Five foot drifts in the Blue Ridge area
stranded hundreds of motorists. The combination of heavy wet snow and high winds
took out communication lines and poles isolating communities in Frederick
County. A week past before some areas saw service restored. Chesapeake and
Potomac Telephone Company estimated one million dollars in damage to replace
21,400 poles, 10,000 miles of open wire lines, and 60 miles of cable in
Maryland, Virginia and eastern West Virginia. Potomac Edison saw $75,000 in
damages and the Postal Telegraph Company $12,500. A severe cold spell followed
the storm from the 7-16th killing fruit blossoms and turning winter grains
brown. It was also reported to have killed 10 people. This cold wave broke what
had been the warmest winter in 114 years.
December 17, 1932: 6 to 8 inches fell across western Maryland with 8 to 13 inches in north-central and southern Maryland. Baltimore recorded 11.5 inches of snow. On the Eastern Shore, 4 to 6 inches fell over the lower portions with the greatest amounts from the storm, 10 to 15 inches, across the Upper Shore counties.
February 1936: The winter of 1935-1936 was cold and snowy. The mean temperature averaged 6 degree below normal. It was the coldest since the winter of 1917-1918. Ice Conditions on the Chesapeake Bay were bad with the upper Bay and tributaries completely frozen over and the lower Bay mostly frozen. A storm on the Februaty 7 struck southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore the hardest. La Plata reported 21 inches of snow and Ferry Landing in Calvert County had 18 inches. The Washington, DC area had over 14 inches of snow. The Baltimore area only saw 3 to 6 inches, but just south of the city had 6 to 13 inches. Over on the Lower Eastern Shore there was 13 to 18 inches of snow. Princess Anne and Easton both reported 18 inches. With fresh snow on the ground, once the clouds were gone temperatures fell below zero. Bell (Prince Georges) dropped to -17°F on the 8th. Boyds (Montgomery) reached -11°F, College Park -12°F, Lutherville (Baltimore County) -13°F, Darlington (Harford) -8°F, Millington (Kent County) -6°F, La Plata (Charles) and Solomons (Calvert) reached -4°F, and Aberdeen (Harford) -3°F. Baltimore City estimated the expense of removing snow from the streets, thawing water pipes, and ice-breaking activities at $250,000 and repairing streets damaged by the severe cold at $350,000. Ice on the bay destroyed 163 unattended lights and 39 unlighted pile beacons. The cold, snowy winter went on to a March thaw which lead to the Great Spring Flood of March 1936 on the Potomac River.
November 24-25, 1938: The Thanksgiving Day Storm was an early season snowstorm that marked a dramatic change from the mild warm weather that mark the 1st through the 23rd of the month. It is the November storm of record. It dumped 14 inches on Aberdeen (Harford) and Georgetown (Cecil County). Kent County and Baltimore County saw 10 to 12 inches, 6 to 9 inches fell across Southern Maryland, and the Batimore and Washington areas. Baltimore recorded 8.5 inches and Washington 7 inches. Talbot, Caroline and Queen Annes saw 8 to 10 inches with 4 to 7 inches across the Lower Eastern Shore. Lake-effect snowfall on the back side of the storm added to totals in Garrett County with stations reporting 12 to 14 inches. Hundred of automobiles were snowbound on the highway during the Thanksgiving Holiday travel period.
January 23-24, 1940: Storm struck all the way from Mississippi to New Jersey. Over 15 inches fell in Louisville, MS. One to two feet of snow fell across portions of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. Cheltenham (Prince Georges) recorded 24 inches. A path of 12 to 24 inches of snow fell across Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. Washington, DC recorded 9.5 inches.
March 29-30, 1942: The Palm Sunday Snowstorm dumped the state's heaviest March snow on record in Maryland. The storm began as rain but changed over to a wet heavy snow. The snow stuck to power lines, trees and shrubs damaging them under its weight. Many of the fruit trees had begun to blossom. Over 20 inches fell over northern Anne Arundel, Howard, Southern and western Baltimore County, Carroll County, eastern and northern Frederick County, and north-central Washington County. Maximum amounts reported were 31 inches at Clear Springs (just 12 days earlier the temperature had reached 79°F here), 32 inches at Westminister, 30 to 36 inches at State Sanatorium (Frederick County) and 36 inches at Edgemont (Washington County). Baltimore City received its greatest snow in 20 years with 22 inches measured. Hagerstown and Westminister reported 22 inches in 24 hours. Washington, DC received a total of 12 inches of snow.
November 6-7, 1953: A slow moving nor'easter brought an record early snowfall to portions of the state. It was the earliest recorded significant (defined as 4 or more inches) snowfall at Baltimore with 5.9 inches. The greatest snowfall amounts with the storm were reported outside the metropolitan areas with 14 inches in Elkton (Cecil) and a swath of 10 to 12 inches stretching west across the nothern tier of Maryland to the eastern portion of Washington County. Near blizzard winds of 30 mph accompanied the storm causing major drifting and closing down highways. It was two weeks before the deepest drifts totally melted away. Queen Annes and Kent Counties also saw 10 to 12 inches snow and La Plata and Prince Frederick in Southern Maryland saw 8 to 11 inches with Charlotte Hall (St Marys) recording 13 inches.
February 15-17 1958: A severe nor'easter began on the 15th.
During moderate to heavy snowfall, north winds blew at 25 mph with gusts to 35
mph creating blizzard conditions and subzero wind chills. A 50 mile wide band of
15 to 20 inches of snow fell from Washington, DC northeast through Baltimore
County. While Frederick and Emmitsburg reported 10 inches, areas to the west
only received 4 to 8 inches fell. Over the Delmarva Peninsula, the Lower Eastern
Shore saw a trace to an inch of snow with an inch of rain, but the Upper Shore
(including Easton) and Delaware recieved as much as a foot of snow. Calvert and
Charles County also saw 10 to 16 inches of snow. Washington, DC reported
14 inches, Baltimore 15.5 inches, Dundalk 18 inches, Pikesville 22 inches,
Westminister 15 inches and Bel Air 17 inches. Temperatures were just below
freezing when the storm began and then feel throught the 20°s.
March 19-21, 1958: A slow moving nor'easter struck rather late
in the season in 1958 causing huge amounts of property damage. Over a foot
of heavy wet snow took a heavy toll on trees, shrubs, television antennas,
power and communication lines. Carroll, Baltimore and Harford Counties was
hardest hit. In Baltimore City, the storm began as rain during the day of
the 19th but changed to heavy wet snow for the slushy commute home. It also
changed to snow quickly to the northwest as the ground gained in elevation and
the temperature fall. The Mount Washington section of Baltimore received 24 to
30 inches of snow. This section is just a 100 feet higher than the rest of the
city. On Parr Ridge in Mount Airy, Carroll County, a weather reporter measued 33
inches of snow from the storm (4.03 inches liquid equivalent). Other reports
included 29 inches at Parkton, 24.5 inches at Bentley Springs, 23 inches at
Conowingo Dam and in Delaware, 27 inches at Middletown. For Westminister, 30
inches from this storm combined with two snows earlier in the month for a March
snow total of 42 inches! Hagerstown saw 16 inches with areas to the west
receiving considerably less. The Lower Eastern Shore saw 3 inches with areas to
the north like Denton receiveing 13 inches.
December 11-12, 1960 and The Winter of 1960-1961: The snowy pattern of the last couple winters continued with three more snow storms. The first big snowstorm of the winter struck early in the season on December 11-12 leaving around a foot of snow in western Maryland as well as 14 inches at Baltimore and Greenbelt, 15.5 inches in Chestertown, 12.6 inches in La Plata, and 11 inches in Westminister. Winds gusted to over 50 mph in western Maryland creating blizzard conditions and severe drifting and blowing of snow. December saw 16 days with snow cover on the ground. The next storm struck January 19-20. Maryland saw 2 to 16 inches of snow, Delaware 11 inches and DC recorded 8 inches. Hagerstown had around13 inches. Again the storm brought winds gusting up to 50 mph and heavy drifting of snow. It caused a great traffic jam around DC. Five deaths were blamed on the storm in Maryland and DC and 2 in Virginia, mostly due to overexertion and accidents. The third storm hit February 3-5. Again, it struck like a blizzard with severe cold and gale force winds. Eight inches fell in Washington with a foot across much of Maryland and as much as 36 inches in New York. Baltimore recorded 10.7 inches and Hagerstown 15 inches.Hagerstown recorded its greatest seasonal snowfall total with 74 inches.
March 5-9, 1962: The "Ash Wednesday Storm" was perhaps the most intense nor'easter of 20th century. It caused over 200 million dollars in property damage (1962 dollars) and major coastal erosion from North Carolina to Long Island, NY. The Red Cross estimated that 40 people died in the storm. In New Jersey alone, the storm severely damaged or destroyed 45,000 homes. It hit during "Spring Tide" (sun and moon phase to produce a higher than normal tide). Water reached nine feet at Norfolk (flooding begins around five feet). Houses were toppled into the ocean and boardwalks were broken and twisted. The islands of Chincoteague and Assateague were completely underwater. Ocean City, Maryland sustained major damage especially to the south end of the island. Winds up to 70 mph built 40-foot waves at sea. Heavy snow fell in the mountains to the west. Big Meadows, southeast of Luray, recorded Virginia's greatest 24-hour snowfall with 33 inches and the greatest single storm snowfall with 42 inches. Frostburg, Maryland had 21 inches in 24 hours and Cumberland had over 17 inches. Baltimore had 13 inches of snow. Roads were blocked and electrical service was out for several days in some areas. Areas to the east of the bay fell into the mixed precipitation zone.
January 30-31, 1966: A blizzard struck Maryland and the Northeast US. It began following morning lows of subzero in some portions of the state. Temperatures remained in the single digits as the wind and snow increased. Gusts of 50 to 60 mph caused white-out conditions over portions of western Maryland and into the Baltimore and Washington areas. Hagerstown reported 15 inches of snow on top of 12 inches already on the ground and some drifts as high as 20 feet. One to two feet of snow covered a large part of Virginia and Maryland. Fredericksburg had 15.5 inches; Washington had 14 inches (added to a previous snow, the depth on the ground came to 20 inches). Drifts were up to 10 feet deep in some areas. Baltimore had 12 inches and Bel Air had 17 inches. Easton recorded 25 inches on the ground by February 2 and a January monthly snowfall total of almost 27 inches. Baltimore recorded over 21 inches for the month. Intense blowing and drifting snow continued and kept roads closed for several more days crippling transportation lines and causing a food shortage and rationing. Baltimore and Washington airports were closed for two to three days.
December 1, 1974: High winds, heavy wet snow and thunderstorms
caused incalcuable damage in Maryland. In western Maryland, heavy snow up to 30
inches along with high winds stopped traffic, broke wires, and toppled towers,
antennas, and trees. Three thousand people were stranded and 400 cars abandoned
along a 20 mile stretch between Frostburg and Keyser's Ridge. Drifting of snow
kept the roads closed for the next 2 days. The weight of the snow along with the
winds caused extensive tree damage and knocked out communications and utilities
to 23,000 people for up to 6 days. 15 to 20 inches of ice and snow knocked out
cable television antenna, microwave, and relay towers.
January 1977: The Bicentennial Winter was the coldest seen on the East Coast since before the founding of the republic. In Maryland, the snow began on January 4, just as the Carter Administration was moving into town. New storms dropped a few more inches every few days to put a fresh coating on the streets that were just clearing from the previous storm and give a clean look to the piles of dirty snow that were accumulating along roadways and in parking lots. The Tidal Potomac (salt water) froze solid enough that people could skate across it near the Memorial Bridge. The average temperature for the month of January was 25.4° F which was the coldest since 1856 when the temperature averaged 21.4° F in Washington. The normal January average temperature for Washington is 34.6° F. Baltimore averaged only 22.9° F , again almost 10 degrees colder than normal. The prolonged cold wave caused oil and natural gas shortages. President Carter asked people to turn thermostats down to conserve energy. Maryland did not see heavy snow like the Great Lake region did that winter. The cold winds blowing across the warm lakes brought 68 inches of snow to Buffalo, NY. Washington recorded 10 inches of snow in January and Baltimore had 8.5 inches, but none fell the rest of the winter ending it 9 inches below normal in Baltimore. The cold wave penetrated into the South. On January 19, snowflakes fell in Miami, Florida!
January 19-20, 1978: The four snows in 10 days brought an additional 10 to 13 inches to the 20 inches already on the ground west of Hagerstown. The City of Cumberland was nearly immobilized with 31 inches accumulated. The blizzard struck all the way up to Boston where it dropped 21 inches at Logan Airport in 24 hours and brought winds gusting to 62 mph. On January 26, rain came on top of the snow. A woman was killed in Baltimore County near Glen Arm when a muddy bank gave way just as she was backing out of her driveway.
February 6, 1978: The "Blizzard of '78" This intensifying nor'easter brough 18 inches of snow to Havre de Grace necessitating calling the National Guard for help. Nearly a foot fell in Baltimore and one person died of a heart attack trying to push a car stalled in the snow. The nor'easter brought a record 24 inches in 24 hours to Boston and a storm total of 27.5 inches.
February 18-19, 1979: The "Presidents Day Storm" was considered the worst storm in 57 years to strike the Baltimore-Washington area. Snow depths from the storm were up to 20 inches over Northern Virginia and 26 inches in Maryland. At times, snow was falling 2 to 3 inches per hour and temperatures were in the single digits to teens. Huge tractors and other farm machinery had been driven to the Mall in Washington to protest for higher agricultural pricing. When the storm hit, the farmers used their equipment to help the locals dig out of the nearly two feet of snow. Temperatures across the state were unusually cold (single digits) when the snow started (similar to Feb. 1899). Baltimore recorded a temperature of -3° F for a minimum that month.
February 11-12, 1983: The Blizzard of 1983 beat the Presidents' Day Storm and was the second greatest snowfall for Baltimore since records began. It covered an unusually large area of Virginia and Maryland with more than a foot of snow. Two feet of snow lay in a band across Washinton, Frederick, Montgomery, Carroll, Howard and Baltimore Counties. The storm set a new 24 hour snowfall record at Baltimore with 22.8 inches. Parts of Northern Virginia up into western Maryland measured as much as 30 inches on the ground. Hagerstown reported 25 inches of snow (its second greatest storm behind the January 1996 snowstorm). For a couple hours of the storm, snow fall at an amazing rate of 3.5 inches per hour. Thunderstorms intensified the snowfall in some areas.Winds gusted over 25 mph all day on February 11 causing drifts up to five feet. The heavy snow and winds paralyzed the region. The cost of clearing the snow from roads was in the millions of dollars.
January 22-28 1987: Two significant snowstorms struck within 3 days of each other and were followed by a cold wave that dropped temperatures below zero in some areas. The first storm struck on January 22 and dropped 12 inches of snow at Baltimore and 11 inches in Hagerstown and Washington, DC. Like other nor'easters, this one was accompanied by strong winds and drifting of snow. The second storm struck just 3 days later on January 25 dropping an additional 9 to 10 inches on top of what had already fallen in the Baltimore and Washington areas and more over southern Maryland and the Lower Eastern Shore. On the morning of the 27th, stations were reporting the following snow depths: Salisbury 18 inches, Easton 17 inches, Baltimore 19 inches, Waldorf 23 inches, Washington DC 18 inches, Frederick 16 inches, Hagerstown 16 inches, and Frostburg 15 inches. Morning temperatures were in the single digits and by the morning of the 28th, below zero. Pikesville was -5°F, Bel Air and Hagerstown -4°F, Easton -3°F, Annapolis -1°F, Washington-Dulles Airport was -17°F and Martinsburg WV was -7°F. A third snowstorm hit on February 22 dropping another 10 inches on Washington and Baltimore.Hagerstown reported 13 inches and thunder-snow. Power lines and trees were damaged by the weight of the heavy wet snow.
November 11, 1987: The Veteran's Day Storm will
not be forgotten by many Washington area travelers. Almost a foot (11.5 inches)
fell at National Airport. Prince Georges County, MD was hard hit with up to 13
inches of snow falling in a short amount of time. It caught motorists off guard
and stranded cars on the Capitol Beltway. There were so many cars that snow
plows could not get through to open the clogged arteries. Cars littered the
roadway for more than 24 hours. The event precipitated the development of the
Washington Metropolitan Area Snow Plan to facilitate preparedness and response
to future storms.
December 10-12, 1992: The Great Nor'easter of 1992 did tremendous damage to New Jersey and hit New England hard. It also affected Maryland. The storm lashed the coast with winds and waves causing moderate flooding in Ocean City. It dumped heavy rain over the Chesapeake Bay region and its winds knocked power out to 120,000 customers in the state. It was one of the worst storms this century for far western Maryland. Allegany County saw 2 feet of snow over the east portion and 3 feet around Frostburg. Garrett County had 3 feet of snow. Piney Dam in northeast Garrett County had 42 inches of snow (unofficial). Winds drove the snow into drifts up to 20 feet in some areas. Trucks were stranded on Interstate-68. The storm knocked down trees and power and phone lines. With no electricity, some people were without heat. Others were trapped in their homes for days. About 10 people had to be rescued.
March 13-14, 1993: The Superstorm of March '93 was named
for its large area of impact, all the way from Florida and Alabama north through
New England. The entire State of Pennsylvania was buried under 1 to 2 feet of
snow. Even Alabama saw as much as 13 inches. The storm was blamed for some 200
deaths (many, heart attacks from shoveling the heavy snow). It cost a couple
billion dollars to repair damages and remove snow. In Florida, it produced a
storm surge of 9 to 12 feet that killed 11 people (more deaths than surges from
Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew) and it spawned 11 tornadoes. As the storm's center
crossed the Mid-Atlantic region and the Chesapeake Bay, weather stations
recorded their lowest pressure ever (Baltimore = 28.51 inches).
January-February, 1994 Cold and Ice: An unusual assault
of snow, ice and cold struck. On January 2-4, 6 to 12 inches of snow fell
across Washington and Allegany Counties with 12 to 15 inches in Garrett County.
Areas to the east saw ice and slush. A small storm struck on the 12th dropping
another 4 to 6 inches across the highlands. This was followed by an arctic blast
that sent temperatures single digits and teens with wind chills down to 25 below
zero on the 15th. Another snowstorm hit January 17-18 dropping 6 to
10 inches across Carroll and Frederick Couties and 10 to 18 inches across
Washington, Allegany and Garrett Counties. Frostburg reported the most snow from
the event with 20 inches, Hagerstown had 13 inches. Snow sleet and freezing rain
fell across the Baltimore and Washington metro areas. Minimum temperatures
plunged below zero on January 19-21. Emmitsburg and Hancock reached
-27°F, Unionville -22°F, Frostburg -21°F, Catoctin Mountain Park -18°F,
Cumberland and Martinsburg -15°F, Westminister and Finksburg -14°F, Manchester
-13°F, Mount Airy and Laurel -12°F, Potomac and Cockeysville -9°F, Northwest
DC -7°F, Chestertown and Princess Anne -6°F, Annapolis -4°F and Salisbury
0°F. Washington, DC set a new record for the coldest high temperature for
any calendar day this century when it only reached 6.8°F. The previous record
was 8°F set on January 8, 1912. The record for the previous century was
4°F on February 10, 1899. Wind chills on the night of the 18th into the
19th ranged from -28°F at Baltimore and Salisburg to -35° in Martinsburg WV
and Washington DC to -56°F at McHenry (Garrett County). The arctic cold wave
rocketed the use of electricity and natural gas for heating. The effect over
such a large portion of the Eastern U.S. caused the power companies in some
areas to go into rolling black outs so as not to lose the entire power grid.
November 1995: Winter came early and struck hard this year. A strong cold front moved across Maryland on Veterans Day. High winds with the front took down trees and power lines. The temperature was near 60°s in advance of the front in Frederick, MD. Two hours later, rain was turning to snow as temperatures plummeted into the 30°s. For the next several days, northwest winds carried moisture from the Great Lakes up into Garrett County where it continued to fall as snow. The snow finally ended on November 18 with a total accumulation at Oakland of 40 inches. It was a record snow event for Maryland, as well as a record snow for November, and set up to tie the all-time monthly snow record with a total of 58 inches. The event set the stage for the rest of the winter and Oakland went on to accumulate 170 inches for the season.
January 7-13, 1996: The Blizzard of '96 or the Great Furlough Storm began early on Sunday, January 7. Just two days earlier, an impasse between a republican congress and a democratic president over the 1996 Federal Budget had finally come to an end. Many federal employees had been on furlough with government offices shut down for almost a month. Employees would finally return to work on Monday, January 8. But mother nature had something else in mind. By Monday morning, Washington, DC was buried under 17 to 21 inches of snow. As much as 30 to 36 inches of snow fell over Frederick and Washington Counties. Baltimore recorded over 22 inches and even Ocean City received 10 inches of snow. A two-foot swath of heavy snow fell across Dorchester and Caroline Counties into southern Kent County, DE. The entire state was paralyzed and the Federal Government remained shut down. As road crews worked hard to clear the snow, an "Alberta Clipper" shot through on Tuesday, January 9 dumping an additional 3 to 5 inches from Washington northeast through Baltimore. Plows that would have been working on secondary roads and residential areas were sent back to the primary roads. The government remained shut for 4 days that week and many schools and businesses announced their closure for the entire week. A third storm struck on Friday, January 12 dumping another 4 to 6 inches over the metro areas. A maximum of 6 to 12 inches of snow fell over Frederick and Carroll Counties. By the week's end, most of Maryland, west of Baltimore, had seen 3 to 4 feet of snow! Most areas to the east had received 1 to 2 feet! (See map).
February 2-3 and February 16, 1996, storms: The Delmarva received 4 snowstorms in about 5 weeks from January 7 through February 16. The storm on February 2-3, dropped up to two feet of snow over Dorchester County. The entire Lower Eastern Shore was covered by another 1 to 2 feet of snow. On February 16, another storm struck dropping 5 to 8 inches over the Lower Eastern Shore and 8 to 12 inches on the Upper Eastern Shore. These storms combined to produce the snowiest season this century on the Delmarva! The Lower Shore (Wicomico, Worcester, and Somerset Counties) saw 28 to 35 inches of snow in those five weeks. Dorchester, Talbot, and Caroline Counties saw 45 to 59 inches of snow. The Upper Shore (Cecil, Kent, and Queen Annes Counties) saw 38 to 42 inches. Record snow also fell across Southern Maryland. The record in Hollywood stood at 54.7 inches set during the winter of 1898-99. The 1995-96 winter dropped 59 inches of snow on Hollywood. The series of big snow storms went on to break an all time record at Baltimore with a season total of 62.5 inches. It broke the old record of 52 inches (set 1963-64 season) by almost a foot! Snow records at Baltimore go back to 1883.
Maryland Winter Weather Statistics
Average Snowfall = Ranges across the state
from 10 to 15 inches on the Eastern Shore to 25 inches over north central
Biggest Snowstorm = 40 inches in Oakland on November
12-18, 1995. (official)
Greatest Monthly Snowfall Total = 58 inches in January
1895 in Oakland and more recently,
Greatest Seasonal Snowfall Total = 175 inches in Deer Park ,
winter of 1901-1902.
Coldest Temperature = - 40° F in Oakland (Garrett County)
on January 13, 1912.
Baltimore Snow Statistics:
Top 15 Snowstorms in Baltimore:
National Disaster Survey Report: Superstorm of March 1993 , Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, May 1994.
National Disaster Survey Report: The Great Nor'easter of December 1992 , Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, June 1994.
David Ludlum. The American Weather Book. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1982, pp. 9-10, 16, 29-31, 54.
Storm Data, Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS, January and February 1978.
East Coast Storm: March 5-9, 1962 - A Preliminary Report and Special Weather Bulletins Issued. US Dept. of Commerce, Weather Bureau, March 1962.
"Some Outstanding Snowstorms" L.S. 6211, US Dept. of Commerce, Weather Bureau, Dec. 1962.
News Journal, Wilmington, DE, Sept. 18, 1994.
Mary Cable. The Blizzard of '88. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1988, pp. 58, 93-94, 165, 168, 191.
Larry Savadove and Margaret Thomas Buchholz. Great Storms of the Jersey Shore. Harvey Cedars, NJ: Down The Shore Publishing and The Sandpiper, Inc., 1993.
Kevin Ambrose. Blizzards and Snowstorms of Washington, DC. Historical Enterprises, Merrifield, Virginia, 1993.
Climatological Data: Hagerstown, MD: Local Climate Records compiled by Greg Keefer, Hagerstown Weather Observer 1970 to 1999, obtained from internet website February 1999.
The Climate Handbook for Washington, DC. US Dept. of Commerce, Weather Bureau, Tech. Paper #8, 1949.
Local Climatic Data for Washington, DC. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS,
Local records from the Washington DC Forecast Office, DOC, NOAA, NWS.
Report for March 1907, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Maryland and
Delaware Section of the Climatological Service of the Weather Bureau in
Cooperation with the Maryland State Weather Service.
Climatological Data: March 1921, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Weather
Bureau, Maryland and Delaware Section.
Climatological Data, Maryland and Delaware: November 1953, Volume
LVII, No. 11, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Weather Bureau, Chattanooga, 1954.
Local Climatic Data for Easton, MD. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, NWS.