March 7-8, 2008- Columbus’ Greatest Snowstorm

**Originally posted on 12/29/12.
On the eve of the anniversary of Columbus’ biggest snowstorm, I thought I would repost this. Makes you appreciate just how mild and uneventful Winter 2015-2016 has been, doesn’t it?

More than one week prior to the Blizzard of 2008, models had been hinting at a significant storm somewhere in the eastern US. Initially, models took the storm up the East Coast, but as the storm neared, models moved it further and further west and settled upon a track just west/just along the spine of the Appalachians. The track waffled for days, but never strayed far from the Appalachian track. Because the storm was originating near the Gulf of Mexico, models were showing the storm pulling vast amounts of moisture north into cold air over the Ohio Valley. Simply put, the track and conditions were being forecast to be perfect for a significant Ohio snowstorm.

Local forecasters, however, weren’t buying it… at least not at first. Four days before the storm, neither the NWS nor the television forecasters were calling for a significant event. The winter of 2007-08 had brought several storm busts, and none of them seemed ready to buy into another one. So right up to 24-36 hours before the event began, forecasters were calling for 6″ maximum north and west of the I-71 corridor with a mix along the corridor and mostly rain to the south and east. So, right up until the end, many Ohioans were led to believe that this would be a large, but still a run-of-the-mill, snow event.

My personal account of the storm:

On Thursday, March 6th, I worked a 12-hour day at my store. Customers were talking about forecasts of 4-8″, which in central Ohio is significant in and of itself. We typically get one or two 6″ storms, but rarely up to 8″ and almost never more than that. In fact, in all of Columbus history, there have been less than a dozen snow events that broke double digits. Still, in the talking there were whispers that the storm would be more significant. By Thursday night when I arrived home, I discovered the radar was lit up over the South with a growing area of precipitation heading north. Temperatures had already cooled into the low 30s as a cold front had moved through during the day. Forecasts had changed late in the afternoon, and there were many calls of 6-10″ along I-71 by Sunday.

Friday, March 7th was my day off, and I woke up before 8am in the excitement and inticipation of the impending snow. The radar was showing returns north of the Ohio River then and it was already snowing in Cincinnati. Finally, at 9:05am, flurries began to fall and quickly intensified to a steady, windblown snow. A 9:30, I left the house to go to the store. By the time I reached it, the snow had turned heavy and was accumulating quickly. Visibility had dropped to a 1/4 mile at times and many roads were already snowcovered by the time I reached home.

The snow continued throughout the day and forecasts kept changing, finally settling on 10-15″ along the I-71 corridor with little to no mixing. Meanwhile, the snow continued into the evening and overnight hours of the 7th. Although it did lighten somewhat towards midnight, it never completely stopped. By midnight, in any case, 5-7″ had fallen throughout Columbus and central Ohio, which set a daily record.

Saturday, March 8th dawned very wintry. By dawn, no less than 10″ was on the ground and the snow was continuing to fall heavily. Overnight, blizzard warnings had gone up for all of the NWS Wilmington forecast zone as winds were expected to increase during the day. Winds were generally sustained near 20mph in the morning and increased during the late morning/early afternoon. Heavy snow and winds combined to create total whiteout conditions at times, and every county along I-71 from Cincinatti to Cleveland went under a level 2 or level 3 snow emergency.

At 11am, I went for a walk in the snow. It was still falling heavily and roads were nearly impassable with deep snow. Cars in some cases were buried in snow.

By 2pm, a break in the snowfall came as the low moved to the east of Ohio. When it moved into New York, wraparound snow moved back into the area for 3-4 more hours before ending by 6:30pm Saturday afternoon. The sun even poked through the clouds as it set, producing a very picturesque and beautiful winter scene. A fitting end to the day.

All in all, it was a record setting snowstorm all across the state. Columbus’ 20.5″ of snowfall, including 15.5″ on Saturday alone, was the greatest snowstorm of all time for the city. It also established the greatest 24-hour snowfall and the greatest snow depth ever recorded at 18″. No part of the state was spared, as all major cities except Toledo had 10″ or more. Drifts of 5-7 feet deep were reported in many areas.

The storm also brought some areas of the state to record territory in total seasonal snowfall.

Incidentally, 30 years and 2 months prior, the Great Blizzard of 1978 struck. It is somewhat of note that Ohio’s greatest blizzards on record occurred during the “8” years. 1918, 1978, and now 2008.

The first image below is a model snow depth forecast ending on March 9th. The second is a photo of the heavy snow in Columbus during the evening of the 7th.
Forecasted snowfall-March 5, 2008
382008_1.gif

Here are some videos during the storm.
Dayton Area
https://youtu.be/sEJ5diRfP88
Cleveland Area
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxS60SYXn24
Columbus
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpgKmawafwk

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. Temperatures warmed into the 20s on the 17th as the storm moved through, dropping 6-10″ across most of the state, with as much as 20″ along Ohio River communities. As the storm departed, the heart of the artic air was being pulled directly south into Ohio.

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 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:
http://docs.lib.noaa.gov/rescue/dwm/1994/19940110-19940116.djvu
http://docs.lib.noaa.gov/rescue/dwm/1994/19940117-19940123.djvu


October 30-31, 1993- Halloween Snowstorm

One of the greatest early-season snow events in Ohio occurred on October 30th and 31st, 1993. A low pressure center moved through the Ohio Valley on the 30th and was followed closely by an upper air disturbance on Halloween. Temperatures were well below normal on both days across the state, generally ranging from the low to mid 30s. A wet, occasionally heavy snow began to fall early on the 30th and continued through the 31st. Because of the marginal temperatures, much of the snow melted as it fell, but still accumulated several inches in many areas, with southern and southwestern parts of the state receiving the most, being closer to the low center. While October flurries and light snows are not uncommon in Ohio, this proved to be an exceptional event for so early in the season. For many, this was the first and only White Halloween on record.

Some snowfall totals from around the state…

Akron: 6.6″
Cincinnati: 6.2″
Columbus: 4.6″
Dayton: 4.1″
Toledo: 0.8″
Cleveland: 0.2″

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.

December Precipitation Records 1878-2012

Top 20 Wettest Decembers
1. 1990: 6.98″
2. 1923: 6.12″
3. 2012: 5.70″
4. 2011: 5.44″
5. 1881: 5.28″
6. 1951: 5.07″
7. 1978: 5.01″
8. 2008: 4.84″
9. 1957: 4.68″
10. 1971: 4.61″
11. 1911: 4.53″
12. 2007: 4.34″
13. 1879: 4.29″
14. 1915: 4.15″
15. 1895: 4.14″
16. 1883: 4.12″
17. 1964: 4.09″
18. 1880: 3.98″
19. 1878: 3.88″
20. 1982: 3.84″

Average December Precipitation By Decade
2010*: 4.13″
2000s: 3.31″
1990s: 2.98″
1980s: 2.62″
1970s: 3.03″
1960s: 2.36″
1950s: 2.64″
1940s: 2.44″
1930s: 2.30″
1920s: 2.97″
1910s: 2.78″
1900s: 2.45″
1890s: 2.33″
1880s: 2.90″
1870s**: 4.09″
*2010 to 2012
**1878 to 1879

Top 20 Driest Decembers
1. 1955: 0.46″
2. 1958: 0.69″
3. 1925: 0.73″
4. 1930: 0.80″
5. 1963: 0.85″
6. 1943: 0.91″
7. 1900: 0.92″
8. 1976: 0.93″
9. 1938: 1.04″
10. 1898: 1.09″
11. 1888: 1.11″
12. 1913: 1.13″
13. 1939: 1.20″
14. 1965: 1.24″
15. 2010: 1.26″
16. 1917: 1.31″
17. 1992: 1.32″
18. 1985: 1.41″
19. 1947: 1.44″
20. 1896: 1.52″

Top 20 Greatest December Daily Precipitation
1. 1998: 2.56″
2. 2000: 2.26″
3. 2011: 1.95″
4. 1921: 1.88″
5. 1978, 2008: 1.74″
6. 2001: 1.71″
7. 1990: 1.59″
8. 1901: 1.50″
9. 1932: 1.42″
10. 1883: 1.39″
11. 1895, 1991: 1.37″
12. 1881: 1.30″
13. 1982: 1.27″
14. 1880, 1923, 1927, 1964: 1.26″
15. 1966, 1971: 1.22″
16. 1911, 1937: 1.21″
17. 1929: 1.18″
18. 1933: 1.17″
19. 1950: 1.15″
20. 1915: 1.13″

Average Greatest December Daily Precipitation By Decade
2010s*: 1.19″
2000s: 1.14″
1990s: 1.07″
1980s: 0.72″
1970s: 0.84″
1960s: 0.70″
1950s: 0.73″
1940s: 0.73″
1930s: 0.78″
1920s: 0.93″
1910s: 0.84″
1900s: 0.74″
1890s: 0.66″
1880s: 0.92″
1870s**: 0.95″
*2010 to 2012
**1878 to 1879

Top 20 Snowiest Decembers
1. 1960: 17.3″
2. 1880: 17.2″
3. 1890: 15.1″
4. 2012: 14.9″
5. 1916: 14.7″
6. 1917: 14.5″
7. 1951: 13.6″
8. 2000: 13.4″
9. 1929: 12.7″
10. 1902: 12.2″
11. 1995: 11.8″
12. 1909: 11.0″
13. 1883: 10.6″
14. 1950: 10.5″
15. 1886: 10.3″
16. 1935: 10.2″
17. 1981: 9.8″
18. 1969: 9.7″
19. 2004: 9.6″
20. 1962: 9.5″

Average December Snowfall By Decade
2010s*: 7.6″
2000s: 6.1″
1990s: 3.5″
1980s: 6.1″
1970s: 3.6″
1960s: 7.5″
1950s: 6.4″
1940s: 3.7″
1930s: 4.0″
1920s: 3.0″
1910s: 6.0″
1900s: 5.0″
1890s: 4.8″
1880s: 5.5″
1870s**: 3.3″
*2010 to 2012
**1878 to 1879

Top 20 Largest December Daily Snowfalls
1. 1957: 7.9″
2. 1890: 7.4″
3. 1960: 6.5″
4. 1916: 6.0″
5. 2012: 5.9″
6. 1917, 1951: 5.8″
7. 1909, 1984: 5.7″
8. 1902, 1947: 5.4″
9. 2004: 5.2″
10. 1933: 5.0″
11. 1883, 2012: 4.9″
12. 1968: 4.7″
13. 1929, 1958: 4.5
14. 1981, 1995: 4.3″
15. 1989: 4.2″
16. 1977, 2007: 4.0″
17. 1961: 3.7″
18. 1880, 1897, 1932, 1945, 1999: 3.6″
19. 1935, 1966: 3.5″
20. 1906: 3.4″

Average Greatest December Daily Snowfall By Decade
2010s*: 3.1″
2000s: 2.3″
1990s: 1.7″
1980s: 2.6″
1970s: 2.6″
1960s: 2.9″
1950s: 3.2″
1940s: 1.9″
1930s: 2.1″
1920s: 1.7″
1910s: 2.5″
1900s: 2.4″
1890s: 2.5″
1880s: 1.8″
1870s**: 1.8″
*2010 to 2012
**1878 to 1879

Top 20 Greatest December Snowstorms of All-Time
1. 1890: 10.3″
2. 1960: 8.8″
3. 1957: 8.1″
4. 1984: 7.3″
5. 1917, 2004: 6.6″
6. 1916: 6.0″
7. 2012: 5.9″
8. 1951: 5.8″
9. 1909, 1961: 5.7″
10. 1902: 5.5″
11. 1947: 5.4″
12. 1883: 5.3″
13. 1933: 5.0″
14. 2012: 4.9″
15. 1974: 4.8″
16. 1968: 4.7″
17. 1929, 1958: 4.5″
18. 1932, 1950, 1981, 1989, 1995: 4.3″
19. 1935, 2010: 4.1″
20. 1906, 1966, 1977, 1999: 4.0″