Friday, March 6, 2015

Winter's legacy

This is one of the worst winters in memory, but what about in history?

Winter's legacy

On Sunday, we wrote on how this winter compares with recent severe winters, including 2009-10, the snowiest on record; 1995-96, the second snowiest, and 1993-94, the iciest, as far as we know.

Two semi-ancient winters do stand out – 1898-99, now the fourth-snowiest in the 130-year period of record, and 1917-18.

We also would give a nod to 1957-58, 1960-61, 1976-77, and 1977-78, but let’s get to the oldies first.

The 1898-99 earned its place in the all of fame with what must have been the most-brutal six days in the history of Philadelphia winters. You can read more about that stretch here.

The temperature fell below zero on Feb. 8, 9, and 10, and didn’t get above 11. On Feb. 12, when 7.7 inches of snow was reported, the high was 10, the low was 4.

In all, 18.9 inches of snow fell upon Philadelphia in that one, and Chet Henricksen, retired former head of the local National Weather Service Office, crowns that one as the worst snowstorm on record for the Midatlantic region.

No, he does not have personal memories.

We are impressed by that run, but we also note that right after that storm, quite a mild spell set in, and the Inquirer’s front page cartoon of Feb. 19 depicts Billy Penn fretting over the contaminants melting into the Schuylkill.

The winter of 1917-18 is serious contender, given that it placed in the top 10 for both snow and cold.

It also still holds the record for the most calendar days on which an inch or more of snow was measured in Philadelphia -- 17.

We are standing at 11 for this winter, and although the wintry pattern looks to persist into mid-March, 2013-14 would have a whole lot of catching up to do in that department.

Scrolling later into the 20th Century, 1957-58 merits an honorable mention for a surprise early December storm, a February blizzard, and a power-outage special at the equinox.

The winter of 1960-61 kicked off with pre-solstice surprise snowstorm on Dec. 11-12, 14.5 inches, a 13-incher that ended on Inauguration Day, a profound cold spell, and while storm in early February.

The cold of January 1977 was historic, and the powerful sequence of snowy nor’easters in the winter of 1977-78 might be unequaled for power and frequency.  

Arguing against their claims to No. 1:

1977-78 -- snowy, but historic icing locally, with a not a single storm in the PECO top 10 for power outages;

1976-77 – still the coldest on record, but snow below normal, less than fell in that one storm in 1899.

1960-61 – Not much going on once the snow stopped on Feb. 4.

1957-58 – Stormy, but barely makes the top 50 for temperature.

For now, we’ll leave the winter of 2013-14 in at least third place with an *, as in, it’s not over yet.

Tony Wood Inquirer Weather Columnist
About this blog

Everyone talks about the weather, and here we write about it.

When we’re around and conditions warrant, we’ll keep you updated about what’s coming, but we will do our best always to discuss weather and climate developments in context and remind you that nothing in the atmosphere happens in a vacuum.

Tony Wood has been writing about the atmosphere for The Inquirer for 26 years.

Reach Tony at twood@phillynews.com.

Tony Wood Inquirer Weather Columnist
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