10th anniversary of the Blizzard of '96
So where were you snowed-in a decade ago? This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1996, ranked by some winter weather experts as the second-worst snowstorm ever to strike the Northeast in modern times. Also remembered as the "Great Furlough Storm," the north'easter buried portions of Maryland under 3 to 4 feet of snow. Baltimore clocked 26.6 inches over three days at BWI. It set three daily snowfall records that still stand - 15.8 inches on the 7th; 6.7 inches on the 8th; and 4.1 inches on the 9th of January. Another 6 inches fell on Jan. 12, also a record for the date.
The blizzard was actually a succession of storms. And it was followed a week later by a 3-inch rainfall that melted all the accumulated snow and ice, causing flooding on the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers. Authorities on the Susquehanna were forced to open the floodgates at Conowingo Dam, leading to flooding at Port Deposit.
Click here to read more about this famous storm and others that struck the region in the past two centuries.
And here's how The Sun's Scott Higham (and a list of other reporters who, unlike myself, made it to work that day) reported on the first day of the storm, for the Jan. 8, 1996 editions:
One of the biggest winter storms of the century slammed into Maryland
yesterday, paralyzing the state with a blinding mix of fast-falling snow and
ferocious winds that could turn this morning's commute into a slow, agonizing
If there's a commute at all.
Motorists were expected to face nearly 2 feet of powdery snow. Forecasters
say the snow, driven by winds with gusts topping 30 mph, will make it tough --
if not impossible -- for plows to keep major highways clear before the first
commuters venture out around dawn.
Deep, drifting snow could keep commuters from reaching their cars, never
mind their jobs.
"The snow will return an hour after the plows leave," said Richard Diener,
a National Weather Service forecaster at Baltimore-Washington International
Airport. "We have a massive, king-size gorilla on our hands."
More snow is forecast to hit the region Thursday or Friday.
The Blizzard of 1996 struck states as far south as Kentucky and moved
north to Philadelphia, Newark and New York. It closed Interstate 65 in
Alabama, choked major highways on the East Coast with small mountains of
drifting snow and stranded thousands of people caught in its wide, white path.
Forecasters say the blizzard dumped 2 inches of snow per hour on Baltimore
yesterday, and it could wind up depositing about 18 inches by the time the
system leaves Maryland today.
The blizzard came close to challenging the record in Baltimore, set in
1922 when 24.7 inches fell on the city. By 10 p.m., 14.8 inches had fallen at
Yesterday's blizzard closed malls and major airports in Maryland. Only two
planes made it out of BWI -- to the warm, sunny climes of Cancun and Puerto
Vallarta in Mexico.
The Meyerhoff Symphony Hall called off two concerts. The Metropolitan
Transit Authority shut down by 3 p.m. Even the Whitetail ski resort in
Southern Pennsylvania closed its slopes.
Cardinal William H. Keeler gave Maryland Catholics permission to stay home
on the Holy Day.
"It really has to get paralyzingly bad to issue an archdiocesewide
closure," said Bill Blaul, a spokesman for the diocese.
The storm became so bad as the day wore on that Gov. Parris N. Glendening
declared a state of emergency, sending the National Guard into the streets to
help clear snow and transport the sick and the elderly to hospitals.
Yesterday afternoon, the National Guard began dispatching ,X all-terrain
military Humvees to help out struggling police and fire departments in
Baltimore and in Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel, Frederick, Prince George's
and Washington counties, said Col. Howard S. Freedlander, executive officer of
the Maryland National Guard. The last time the governor declared a state of
emergency in Maryland was during a winter storm in 1993.
Governors in West Virginia and New Jersey also declared states of
"I'm hoping people will use a little bit of common sense," Mr. Glendening
said. "In many ways, the storm is beautiful and can even be fun. But we should
remember that when it's this cold, it can be deadly."
In Washington, President Clinton and the first lady waded through drifts
of snow to reach St. John's, an Episcopal church, for Sunday services.
Republican presidential hopefuls Phil Gramm and Bob Dole couldn't make it to
the campaign trail. The Smithsonian Institution -- finally opened after the
21-day government shutdown -- was forced to close its doors again yesterday.
The weather won't make it easy for thousands of government workers who
were furloughed for three weeks to make it back to work today.
Snow blanketed the Eastern Shore. In Easton, state highway workers stayed
up all night in a frustrating attempt to keep the roads clear. In Salisbury,
state police said snow mixed with sleet made driving difficult.
"Everything is covered in ice," said communications officer James
In Ocean City, emergency workers worried about flooding.
"It turned to rain here," said emergency management director Clay Stamp.
The snowstorm created nightmarish conditions on roads in and around
More than 1,200 trucks plowed around-the-clock in the city and counties
since yesterdaymorning, but only major roads and highways were kept open. For
a time, plowing became futile.
"As soon as we plow a road, the snow covers it back up again," said Betty
Dixon, a Public Works spokeswoman in Anne Arundel County. "We care barely keep
up with it."
At the Inner Harbor, a small plow faithfully cleared the brick walkways,
but Harborplace and the Gallery were shut tight around 10:30 a.m. The normally
crowded waterfront was desolate; the masts of the tall ship Clipper City were
barely visible through the blowing snow.
Santa wasn't at his makeshift "workshop" that was erected for Christmas
next to the Light Street Pavilion.
But Otterbein resident Brian Loughlin came out to capture the scene, a
camera around his neck and a smile on his face.
"Just looking down here, it's usually so teeming with people," Mr.
Loughlin said, surveying the desolation. "This is pure pleasure."
The snowy roads forced the Mass Transit Administration to cut off bus
service by 3 p.m. Amtrak and the city's light rail system kept running
yesterday with a few delays. Even some taxi companies pulled their drivers off
the roads by early afternoon.
Homeless shelters planned to stay open 24 hours, hoping to keep people off
the streets. Hospitals called for help from people with four-wheel drive
vehicles to bring doctors to work.
One weather-related death was reported. A Metro subway operator died after
his train slid into the back of another train as he tried to stop at a
slippery Washington area station late Saturday. Two passengers on board were
It could have been worse. The blizzard stormed into the state on a day
normally reserved for church services and football games. Yesterday, most
people stayed home, spending time with their families, watching rented movies
or the divisional professional football playoff games on television.
"It's football weather," said Perry Hairsine, the owner of the Purple
Goose Saloon in Morrell Park, where a dozen patrons huddled around the TV,
watching the game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Not every one stayed home.
Even though Maryland's colonial capital was covered with snow, Laurie and
Paul Buhrer made it through the drifts to St. Anne's Episcopal Church
yesterday morning for the christening of their 3-week-old son, Ryan.
Cradled under a warm blanket, Ryan slept through the long and bumpy ride
from their home in Severna Park to the historic church in the center of
Annapolis. They joined a small group of the most faithful congregants at the
"It snowed for our 3-year-old's baptism, too, but nothing like this," Mrs.
Buhrer said, shaking off her wet jacket. "This is incredible."
With the snow starting to pile up in Baltimore yesterday, Mayor Kurt L.
Schmoke tried to find his police commissioner. But the city's top cop from San
Jose, Calif., was outside his home, shoveling his driveway.
When the mayor finally reached him, he had a quip for his chief.
"I said, 'Welcome to Baltimore.' This ain't San Jose."