I’m looking out my window, seeing the melting aftermath of last week’s winter storm/Bomb Cyclone. His name? Grayson. His temper? Fierce and impactful. All told, snowfall totals were between fifteen and seventeen hard-hitting and widespread inches. But, Grayson had nothing on the Blizzard of 1996.
January 1996 marked the halfway point of the school year. I was in seventh grade, and January meant preparing for midterm exams – the first time my classmates and I would be taking them. January would be review time for the exams.
School ended that week, and my parents took my brother and myself out for dinner (we did this every Friday), and to the video store for video game rentals. Your typical Friday night.
It Wasn’t Snowing When I Went To Bed…
January 6, 1996 was a normal Saturday for me. I got up early to go to my routine Saturday morning babysitting job, came home for lunch, and had a friend over. My parents groccery shopped for the post-Christmas family party we were hosting the next day. Until that point in my life (all thirteen years of it!), I hadn’t witnessed any huge snow storms in our area, so we weren’t worried about a little snow. It was already snowing in Washington, D.C. that evening, but we thought nothing of it.
I distinctly recall it not snowing when I went to bed that night, and this forecast isn’t exactly full of spoiler alerts…
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January 7th and 8th, 1996: The Blizzard of 1996
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You may remember him from Good Morning America, but for most of my life, Sam Champion was my local meteorologist. :-)
The next two days yielded heavy snow and wind. Now, a Nor’easter is common in this area (this recent storm was a Nor’easter, and we had a rain-type Nor’easter last January), but a snow event Nor’easter is a Nor’easter on steroids. I’ve always been fascinated by meteorologists saying that if a rain Nor’easter were to be a snowstorm, we’d wind up with a ridiculous amount of snow. I recall the year of Hurricane Sandy that if we’d had snow instead of rain, we would have had five feet of snow.
Can you imagine?!
The Weather Channel: (spoken with monotone) No. No I cannot. I’ll let my huge snowflake paint a picture for you.
I grew up in Southern New Jersey, in an area serviced by both the Philadelphia, PA and New York City media markets. When all was said and done, Philadelphia topped out at approximately 30.7 inches, with New York City topping out at between 20 and 30 inches (depending on where you lived). I grew up in Southern Ocean County, where we had two feet of snow (if you lived along the coast in the same county, you escaped with 10-14 inches).
The repercussions of the Blizzard of 1996 were bad for New Jersey. Roads (including the New Jersey Turnpike for the first time in history) closed, schools shut down for the entire week (including mine), and the snow stuck around for a bit. And from what I recall the roads were bad. When we’ve had snowstorms in the past (and even ones we’ve had in more recent years), life only shuts down for one day. This time, the impact was far-reaching and widespread.
I’ve never seen anything like it since.
All told, we missed five days of school, plus a sixth for the observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
The Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale rated the Blizzard of 1996 at “5,” or “Extreme.” The only other storm to receive this distinction is the March Superstorm of 1993. I didn’t recall this storm, but after looking it up, I found out we weren’t impacted by it. The storm resulted in 154 people killed, $1 billion in damage, and nine “disaster area” states.
Once my school reopened, the midterms were a week away, and were postponed due to the lost week. I don’t recall much about that school year or week standing out, but I found out later on that the school stopped building snow days into the calendar, citing that “we didn’t use them.”
They never did build them in, at least, not while I was still going to school. We also never had a snowstorm quite like it between that time and high school graduation in 2001.
I’ll leave you with another highlight of WABC’s coverage of the storm…
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…as well as the Weather Channel’s Local Forecast for Philadelphia.
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