Snows of yesteryear

FILE - In a Wednesday, July 11, 2012 file photo, Steve Niedbalski shows his drought and heat stricken corn while chopping it down for feed in Nashville, Ill. U.S. wholesale prices increased in July from June, pulled up by higher costs for cars and light trucks and the biggest increase in corn prices in nearly six years. The U.S. Agriculture Department said Aug. 10 that the U.S. corn harvest will fall to its lowest level in five years this year because of the drought. The Labor Department said Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012 that the producer price index, which measures price changes before they reach the consumer, increased a seasonally adjusted 0.3 percent last month. That followed a 0.1 percent gain in June. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

On this date in 1996, 27.6 inches of snow fell officially -- and somewhat controversially -- in Philadelphia, a record for any date in the period of snow records dating to the winter of 1887-88.

Adding the 3.1 inches that fell the next day, and the 30.7-inch fall remains the standard, withstanding a strong challenge from the Feb. 5-6 storm, which weighed in at 28.5.

When the total was posted on Jan. 8, 1996, it generated some howls of skepticism.

In those days, the snow was measured at the airport; today that responsibility belongs to a spotter in National Park, Gloucester County, across the river from the official measuring station.

The airport observers actually didn't measure the snow outside their station, which was atop a terminal building, but inferred the total based on the melted liquid equivalent.

During the 1996 storm, only 1.55 inches of precipitation was captured by the airport rain gauge, which at first blush would appear on the light side for that much snow.

Four years later, in 2000, Gary Szatkowski, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Mount Holly, appointed a committee to investigate.

It consisted of Jon Nese, who was then the Franklin Institute staff meteorologist, and the state climatologists of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

In the end, the committee members determined that the 30.7 number should stand. They noted that 33 inches was reported in Cherry Hill, and 28 in Center City.

The Center City total was measured rigorously by Harold Vanasse, Nese's predecessor at the Franklin Institute, who stayed in the building through the entire storm.

As for the 1.55 liquid total, Rutgers University's David Robinson, the New Jersey climatologist, said he wasn't troubled by it.

With the howling winds accompanying the storm, it's possible that some of the snow escaped capture in the gauge.

We should point out that one of the higher totals from the Sunday-morning snowfall came from Philadelphia International Airport -- 0.7 inches, just 30 inches under the record.