January 2-3, 1999- Snow and Ice

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

Dayton: 7.5″
Columbus: 6.6″
Cincinnati: 4.2″

For more January weather records, go here: January Weather
And for more of the most extreme weather, go here: All-Time Weather

January 6-7, 1996- Surprise Blizzard

The first two weeks of January 1996 proved to be a very wintry period, culiminating in a severe snowstorm with blizzard conditions on the 6th-7th. Although this storm was made famous for its effects on the Eastern Seaboard, the storm also had a significant impact on areas to the west of the Appalachians.

This storm developed in the Gulf of Mexico on the 6th and moved up along the East Coast through the 7th. Forecasts for Ohio were not especially indicative of an impending major storm. A weak low pressure moving through the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys was supposed to die out as the main storm on the Coast took over. Ohio was generally forecast to receive 1-3″, mainly along and south of I-70, with the higher end of the range down along the Ohio River. Even as late as the night of the 6th when snow began to fall, forecasters were not calling for a significant event.

I have very vivid memories of seeing the afternoon and evening news on the 6th and being disappointed at the forecasts for the storm to pass us well to the east. However, by the morning of the 7th, it was clear that the forecast had gone very wrong. Heavy snow and strong winds affected mainly the southern 2/3rds of the state. For some locations, there would be more than 30 hours of continuous snowfall.

Blizzard conditions raged across west-central and northwestern sections of the state, where winds gusted over 55mph. Blowing and drifting snowfall piled drifts several feet deep, and travel across the state was made impassible, particularly on country roads. For many, this was one of the greatest January snowstorms ever, and in some cases, the worst storm since the Great Blizzard of 1978. 8-10″ was common in the state, but there was as much as 15″ in parts of the Ohio River communities, as well as areas in west-central Ohio.

Some snowfall totals:

Columbus: 9.0″ Dayton: 8.0″ Cincinnati: 14.4″

So why had the forecast gone so wrong? The weak low pressure that was supposed to die off as the larger system wound up along the East Coast did not die out as expected. Instead, it moved into the lower Ohio Valley and essentially stalled as it spun itself down slowly. This low helped suck moisture over the mountains and into Ohio. Temperatures were cold enough for this moisture to fall as all snow, and a tight gradient brought with it strong winds. The result was a paralyzing winter storm and one of the all-time forecast busts ever.

For more January weather records, go here: January Weather
And for more of the most extreme weather, go here: All-Time Weather

January 18-19, 1994- Greatest Arctic Outbreak

The fall of 1993 had been largely uneventful and a bit warm after the Halloween Snowstorm. November had been quiet and the first 20 days of December averaged almost 6 degrees above normal with just a trace of snowfall. Temperatures gradually cooled through the 3rd week of the month and then went below normal by the 23rd with highs generally from the upper teens to mid-20s. Along with the colder pattern came persistent snowshowers that lasted the rest of the month, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. January was about to change that.

Two snowstorms struck the state in January, the first on January 3-4 and the second, larger event on the 16th and 17th. It was this storm that pulled in a vast reservoir of arctic air into the Ohio region. A very cold high pressure area had been parked just north of the US-Canada border beginning on the 14th, bringing highs in the single digits on the 15th and lows below zero from the 14th on.

Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) – January 14, 1994

Columbus will begin to slide into the deep freeze today with temperatures plunging below zero tonight and Saturday night. The wind chill will average 30 below zero during the cold spell.
The weather will be the coldest of this winter thus far – and the first time Columbus temperatures have fallen below zero since last Feb. 18 when it dipped to minus 2.
The cold spell won’t linger.

“We will start to notice a rebound in temperature, maybe not on Sunday but certainly on Monday,” said Ken Reeves, senior meteorologist for Accu-Weather.

The Accu-Weather forecast calls for temperatures in the midteens at 7 a.m. today and falling to the single digits by day’s end. The overnight low will be minus 5. Saturday’s daytime high will be about 4.
Saturday night the temperature will fall to minus 8, recovering to 15 above Sunday. The low Sunday night will be 11 above. Temperatures should be in the 20s by Monday.
The cause of the cold is a shift in the jetstream, which normally brings air from southern Canada. The shift will bring colder arctic air from northern Canada, which will plunge the Northern Plains, the Midwest and the Northeast into very cold weather. Minnesota and the eastern sections of North Dakota and South Dakota will have temperatures of 20 to 30 below zero Saturday.
Residents will need to dress warmly under the sudden surge of cold air here. Those with poor circulation, particularly the elderly, should be especially careful.
Layers of clothing provide the best protection because layers trap air, which serves as insulation.

“The more layers, the better,” said Reeves.

He said mittens are preferable to gloves, which isolate the fingers. Care should be taken not to cramp the toes by wearing two thick pairs of socks. Cramping can restrict circulation, which is needed to warm extremities.

“If you wear two pairs, don’t wear two thick pairs,” said Reeves. “The key is, you don’t want to slow the circulation. The blood supply is what keeps your hands and feet warm.”

Noses should be covered, and parents should make sure their children are properly dressed, he said.
Faucets should be left dripping in poorly insulated houses and homes where pipes are subject to cold-weather freezing.
Typically, extreme cold weather sends more people into shelters for the homeless. “It brings in the people who would normally try and rough it, the people who don’t like the shelter,” said Charles Oris, director of men’s services for Faith Mission.
Oris expected no problems providing shelter during the weekend for more homeless people. The mission can provide extra sleeping areas and has an overflow facility at the downtown YMCA at Long and Front streets.

As you can see, there was no mention of the snowstorm that would begin just a few days later. The following day, Saturday, January 15, 1994, the paper did mention the upcoming snowfall, but only 2-4″ were forecast. Even as the snow began on Sunday the 16th, the forecast remained 2-4″. Instead, by the end of the day on the 17th, 7.8″ had fallen at Port Columbus. Almost all the state had at least 6″, but 20″-30″ fell to the south and east of Columbus. During the height of the storm, Chillicothe reported a snowfall rate exceeding 5″ per hour! As this storm moved away, it pulled cold air directly south, which failed to warm over the fresh snowpack.

Temperatures in Columbus fell to 0 by midnight on the 17th and continued to drop throughout the next day. The NOON temperature on the 18th was -9 degrees, -13 by 7pm and -17 by midnight. The peak of the cold was reached at 6am on Tuesday, January 19th when the temperature at Port Columbus dropped to 22 degrees below zero. This temperature was the lowest official temperature ever recorded in the city, beating out the 3 times that the city recorded -20 (1879, 1884, 1899).

Across the state, temperatures were 20-35 degrees below zero, and these extremely low readings were more widespread than in any other previous arctic outbreak on record, securing its place in history as the worst arctic outbreak of all time for Ohio.

Coldest Readings January 18-19, 1994
Logan: -37
New Lexington: -35
Eaton: -33
Akron: -25
Dayton: -25
Cincinnati: -24
Columbus: -22
Youngstown: -22
Cleveland: -20

Watch the Evolution of this Arctic Outbreak Here (A DejaVu plugin is required):
January 10-16, 1994
January 17-23, 1994

For more January weather records, go here: January Weather
And for more of the most extreme weather, go here: All-Time Weather

January 2-4, 1879- Columbus’ 2nd Coldest Temperature

After a generally cold December, January 1879 started out with a severe arctic outbreak across the state, leading to Columbus’ 2nd coldest temperature ever recorded (officially). The outbreak began on January 2nd, when a strong cold front moved in from the northwest in the early afternoon hours. The temperature fell rapidly during the evening, reaching a low of -13 on the 2nd for a total drop that day of 42 degrees. The core of the cold air moved across Ohio during the day of the 3rd, so temperatures warmed very little. Highs across the state were in the single digits south to below zero across the norther 2/3rds. Columbus had a rare below zero high of -4, which is the 2nd coldest January high on record and the 3rd coldest high of any month. The low on the 3rd was a frigid -20. This low stood as the coldest temperature in Columbus for 115 years, only being surpassed during the great arctic outbreak of January 1994, during which the temperature fell to -22.

The strong front was very moisture starved, and only a few tenths to an inch to an inch of snow fell with its passage.

Temperatures remained in the single digits for two more days before a gradual warming commenced. By the 8th temperatures went above freezing. The rest of January 1879 was fairly tame. 16 days after the 8th had highs of 35 or greater.

Of note is that the temperature of -20 occured two more times before the end of the 19th century, in January 1884 and February 1899.

For more January weather records, go here: January Weather
And for more of the most extreme weather, go here: All-Time Weather