New Year’s Day, 1999 dawned partly cloudy and cold in Ohio, a tranquil early January day in what had been until then a very warm fall and beginning to winter. Both November and December 1998 had been very warm months. December even had highs reaching into the 70’s early in the month, a truly rare occurrence. However, by the end of December, conditions had taken a turn.
On December 21, 1998, a cold front moved through Ohio, bringing copious amounts of rain. Most cities in Ohio received more than 1″ of rainfall, with several getting 2-3″. This front was the beginning of a very active period that would last for the next three weeks into mid-January. This pattern is not uncommon in La Nina winters, where the Midwest and Ohio Valley, in particular, are often much wetter than normal.
In any event, temperatures fell behind the front and remained generally below normal through the rest of the month of December, though no significant snow events came with the colder weather. That was about to change.
National radars on January 1, 1999 showed blossoming snow in the Great Plains, with cold air pushing south and abundant moisture pushing north from the Gulf of Mexico. Forecasts called for a significant winter storm beginning late on the 1st and lasting through the 2nd. The storm arrived a bit later than expected, but arrived in most areas during the overnight hours of the 1st/2nd as heavy snowfall. The snow initially fell at the rate of at least 1″ per hour, and thundersnow was reported from Cincinnati up through Dayton and Columbus.
During the day on the 2nd, warm air began to affect upper layers of the atmosphere, and the snow gradually began to change over to sleet and freezing rain, with an accumulation of ice of up to 1/2″ in some areas on top of the snow. By then, though, the damage was done. 4-6″ of snow fell in the Cincinnati area, with 6-10″ along the I-70 corridor. Up to 12″ fell to the north of there. Gusty winds created blowing and drifting snow at times, particularly in the northern areas that received less of a coating of ice.
Temperatures turned colder as the storm passed, and what precipitation remained changed back to snow showers by the 3rd of January. Temperatures would remain in the low to mid-teens for highs during the next two days before another storm would set eyes on the state.
Snow Totals for January 2-3, 1999