Sunday, February 14, 2016

Historic Philly snowfalls: Suburbs' totals dominate

Here, is a new look at local snowstorm history, based on the highest snowfall totals reported anywhere in the eight-county area.

Historic Philly snowfalls: Suburbs' totals dominate


Folks in the suburbs know: They often get more snow.

No wonder, recent lists of Philadelphia’s top snowfalls made longtime residents do a double-take: Wait, aren’t they missing some biggies? Yes, indeed.

Just look at the latest storm. Two towns in Chester County reported 20.2 inches for Feb. 13 and 14, while Philadelphia's total was 11.5, pending further udpates.

Personally, I’ll never forget the blizzard of March 1958 that left a drift filling our entire back porch in Springfield, Delaware County. How was that not on the lists?

Because Philadelphia only got 9.6 inches, less than a third what some suburbs got.

Turns out, the 34 inches reported in Montgomery County is the highest total we could find for any snowfall in the eight-county area going back to the end of the 1800s, after combing through all sorts of National Weather Service data.

And it’s far from the only example.

City figures also drastically downplay major snowstorms from 1966, 1978, 1987 and 2006.

Another problem: Some Philly lists counted only one-day totals. That’s why they missed even a recent massive storm, the second of two in early February 2010 that shut down the area. The storm of Feb. 9 and 10 dumped 6.5 inches the first day, 9.3 the next in Philadelphia.

Again, the suburbs got much more, with over two feet total reported in Chester County.

Here, then, is a new look at local snowstorm history, based on the highest snowfall totals reported anywhere in the eight-county area, according to several sets of National Weather Service records.

A fair criticism would be that these high marks might be outliers or flukes that might mislead about overall immensity, especially since unofficial spotter reports have been included in some cases.

Then again, many locations never got measured, especially with the older storms, so who knows where the maximum truly was?

Judge storm size for yourself by looking at the snowfall maps in our slideshow, “15 greatest area snowfalls: Suburbs rule.”

Clearly, this revision resets the notion of what’s historic. No way a foot of snow should be treated as a once-in-decade kind of event. Indeed, it’s already happened twice this year. The 14.8 inches recorded Jan. 21 in Brookhaven even falls short of the Top 25, though the Feb. 13-14 snowfall clearly makes it.

Top 25 Snowfalls in Philadelphia and Its Suburbs

Based on official and unofficial data reported by the National Weather Service.

(1) 34 inches, March 20-21, 1958, measured at Palm, Montgomery County (30.5 in West Chester, 9.6 in Philadelphia. 2.56 inches rain in Atlantic City)
(2) 30.7 inches, Jan. 8-9, 1996, measured in Philadelphia, (30.5 in Palm)
(3) 30 inches, Feb. 5-6, 2010, Ridley Park, (28.5 in Philadelphia)
(4) 26.8 inches, Feb. 10-11, 2010, East Nantmeal, Chester County, (15.8 in Philadelphia)
(5) 26 inches, Feb. 12-14, 1899, Hammonton, Camden County, (18.9 in Philadelphia)
(6) 25 inches, Dec. 19-20, 2009, Swedesboro, Gloucester County, (23.2 in Philadelphia)
(7) 24.5 inches, Feb. 16-17, 2003, Philadelphia’s Byberry section, (18.7 at Philadelphia International)
(8) 21.9 inches, Feb. 23, 1987, Coatesville, (6.5 in Philadelphia)
(9) 21.5 inches, Dec. 25, 1966, West Chester, (12.4 in Philadelphia)
(10) 21.4 inches, Feb. 12, 1983, Palm, Montgomery County, (21.1 in Philadelphia, 24 inches in Allentown)
(11) 21 inches, Dec. 25-26, 1909, Philadelphia, (17.5 in Hammonton)
(12) 20.9 inches, April 8, 1895, West Chester, (not available for Philadelphia)
(13) 20.5 inches, Feb. 12, 2006, West Caln, Chester County , (12.9 in Philadelphia)
(14) 20.2 inches, Feb. 13-14, 2014, West Caln Township and Honey Brook, Chester County (11.5 in Philadelphia). Note: Final tallies may be higher.
(15) 19.4 inches, April 3-5, 1915, Philadelphia, (19.4 in Philadelphia)
(16) 19.2 inches, Dec. 26-27, 2010, Wrightstown, Burlington County, (12.4 in Philadelphia, 30 inches in Brickstown, Ocean County)
(17) 19 inches, Jan. 26-27, 2011, Verga, Gloucester County, (15.1 in Philadelphia)
(18) 18.0 inches, Jan. 24, 1908, Hammonton , (5.8 in Philadelphia, 20 inches in Cape May)
(19) 17.0 inches, Feb. 16, 1958, West Chester, (not available for Philadelphia)
(20) 17.0 inches, Feb. 17, 1900, West Chester, (not available for Philadelphia)
(21) 16.7 inches, Jan. 22-24, 1935, Philadelphia, (16.7 in Philadelphia)
(22) 16.5 inches, Jan. 20, 1978, Palm, (9.3 in Philadelphia)
(23) 16.0 inches, Feb. 7, 1978, Palm, (12.4 in Philadelphia)
(24) 16.0 inches, Jan. 31, 1966, Palm, (less than 3 for Philadelphia)
(25) 15.2 inches, Feb. 13, 1992, Coatesville, (less than 10 for Philadelphia)

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or

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