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December 20, 2009

Storm breaks (nearly) all December records

December storm 2009

The snow that you'll be tackling with shovels and back muscles on Sunday broke nearly all official December records, not just for Baltimore, but also for Washington's Reagan National Airport, and for Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia.

Here are some storm totals from across the region. Here is a quick breakdown of the fallen records (from National Weather Service data):


Dec. 19, 2009:  20.5 inches.

Two-day storm total: 21.1 inches. (This now ranks as Baltimore's 7th-biggest snowstorm on record, and only the second December storm in the top 20. See below)

Total, December to date: 22.2 inches.

Old Baltimore record for a Dec. 19: 7.6 inches in 1945.

Old record for any date in December: 11.5 inches on Dec. 17, 1932.

Old record for total snowfall in December: 20.4 inches in 1966.


REAGAN NATIONAL AIRPORT: Records (for Washington) go back to 1887)

Dec. 19, 2009:  15 inches.

Two-day storm total:  16.4 inches.

Total, December to date: 16.6 inches.

Old Washington record for a Dec. 19:  7 inches in 1945.

Old record for any date in December: 11.5 inches on Dec. 17, 1932.

Old record for total snowfall in December: 16.2 inches, 1962.


DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: Records go back to 1963.

Dec. 19, 2009:  16 inches.

Two-day storm total:  18 inches

Total snowfall, December to date: 21 inches

Old Dulles record for  a Dec. 19:  3.1 inches in 2000

Old record for any date in December:  10.6 inches on Dec. 12, 1964

Record for total snowfall in December:  24.2 inches in 1966. This record still stands.

Top 20 Snowstorms in Baltimore: (1891-2006)
128.2 inches ... Feb. 15-18, 20031114.1 inches ... Dec. 11-12, 1960
226.5 inches  ... Jan. 27-29, 19221213.1  inches ... Feb. 11-12, 2006
322.8 inches ... Feb. 11, 19831313.0  inches ... Mar. 5-7, 1962
422.5 inches ... Jan. 7-8, 19961412.3 inches ... Jan. 22, 1987
522.0 inches ... Mar. 29-30, 19421512.1 inches ... Jan. 30-31, 1966
621.4 inches ... Feb. 11-14, 18991612.0 inches ... Feb. 16-18, 1900
720.0 inches ... Feb. 18-19, 19791711.9 inches ... Mar. 13-14, 1993
816.0 inches ... Mar. 15-18, 18921811.7 inches ... Feb. 5-8, 1899
915.5 inches ... Feb. 15, 19581911.5 inches ... Dec. 17-18, 1932
1014.9 inches ... Jan. 25, 20002011.5 inches ... Mar. 21-22, 1964


This is already the snowiest winter at BWI since 2002-2003, and snowier than the last two winters combined:

Long-term average:  18.2 inches

2009-10: 22.2 inches

2008-09:  9.1 inches

2007-08:  8.5 inches

2006-07:  11.0 inches

2005-06:  19.6 inches

2004-05:  18.0 inches

2003-04:  18.3 inches

2002-03:  58.1 inches

Here's NWS science officer Steve Zubrick's car, at Sterling on Saturday night:

NWS Sterling 12-19-2009

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:54 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: By the numbers


Frank, do you think they'll be able to clean the streets for school this week in Baltimore City?

FR: If I had access to our clips from 2003, when we had 7 inches more than we did this time, I could figure out how long the city schools were closed. But I'm snowed-in at home. Anyone remember how long the city schools were closed after the February 2003 storm? Seems to me the county schools were closed for the entire week.

If I remember correctly, city and county schools were closed the whole week (or at least almost the whole week) in the February 2003 storm. It took them forever to clear away all the snow. That was my first winter in Baltimore, having moved here the summer before from Alaska (where I grew up). I was shocked at how long it took to plow away the snow!

No question that there's an early holiday for schools that aren't already closed (Private schools shut down on Friday).

Also, from The Sun, Thursday, Feb 20, 2003:

Baltimore County and Prince George's County already have decided to keep schools closed tomorrow. Officials in Baltimore County said many of the system's 766 school buses are trapped in snow and not all school buildings are yet serviceable.

The state board granted a four-day waiver in 2000, a year in which Maryland was pummeled by a hurricane and two snowstorms. In 1996, the board waived two days because of a blizzard. Each year, the waivers equaled the number of days that a state of emergency was in effect.

School systems have budgeted for and used up a varying number of snow days this winter. Howard County schools had planned for five snow days and have used nine. Schools in Baltimore, [Howard] and Carroll counties have used at least three more snow days than they planned for.

PS: It's not perfect, but you can use the paid search to dig out nuggets that would have been in the lede (it gives 3 paragraphs free):

Frank, you are correct, the county was out the entire week. How likely do you think it is to see the county schools out on monday?

FR: I'd give it pretty good odds. They have more than 110 elementary schools and I-don't-know-how-many others to clean up. Bus routes and turnarounds have to be plowed. And all the people slated to do the work have to be able to dig out and get to the job today. On the plus side, they'll have a nice, sunny day for it. A sunny week, for that matter.

Thanks for your postings. It was fun to get the updates while the storm was going on and I appreciate the additional perspective. Good luck digging out! We bought a snow blower after the 2003 storm and it's perfect for this kind of snow!

FR: Thanks for visiting. My son is home for the Holiday. We handed him the shovel this morning.

Frank how likely is it for city schools to be closed on monday ??

FR: See above.

Mr. R.,

thanks for the great information. can you please explain this data from the 'detailed history + climate'?

the 12/19/2009 page lists 20.5" of snow. yesterday, it had snow depth at 16", but checking this morning, it changed to a depth of 6.00" for Saturday. how is snow depth defined, and I wonder why it changed overnight?

also, how is the 1.54" of precipitation for the day measured? how do they measure precipitation in a snowstorm, and what is the relationship between the precip reading and the snowfall totals, if any?

as always, thank you!

FR:Good question. Here's the (correct) answer from Steve Zubrick, science officer at the NWS forecast office in Sterling:

"Snow depth the actual measurement of the depth of snow taken (usually) at one time per day (mostly at 7AM). The snow depth can (and will) often be different from the snowfall, since things like compaction, melting, etc. of snow can take place. The snow depth is measured officially on another snowboard (that is not wiped clean)...but often many snow depth reports are taken by ...taking a minimum of 10 measurements (or sticks) and averaging those measurements to come up with an average.

"Looks like we'll have snow depth measurements right on through, yes, we'll technically have white Christmas; temps are not going to warm much through the least not enough to melt all of the snow that's here. - Steve"

FR: The 1.54 inches of precip is the melted value (rain equivalent) of the snow, in inches. They actually collect it in a cannister, melt and measure it. "Wet" snow holds more water than dry, "fluffy" snow.

That was my first year teaching, BCPSS was closed all week--I'm guessing the priority right now is to prepare for the Ravens to play.

There are a few key differences between this storm and the big one in 2003. One is that the snow is lighter and more powdery, not the really dense wet kind. Two is that the storm really only covered one full day, not multiple days. Three is that it hit on a Saturday, and I think the big one in 2003 was a Sunday into a Monday? So while this was a very impressive storm, it's probably not going to be as hard to recover from as the 2003 one.

Things are actually starting to look pretty good around here in Ellicott City. Cleanup is mostly done thanks to help from the neighbors, so we'll probably be able to get out to work tomorrow, as opposed to the four days I spent stuck at home back in 2003. Not that I would have minded some extra holiday time. :)

FR: I'd have to agree. Our street is pretty clear, and everyone seems to be well-dug-out. (Even my Saturday paper has emerged from the snowbank. Sunday's edition still missing.) The highways and main arteries are just wet, with melting speeded by salt and sunshine. The key, for schools, will be how well they manage to clean up walkways, drives, parking lots, bus lots and turnarounds. I see Kent County has already closed for Monday.

According to my brother, who teaches at Kent County High, they are closed till the New Year

FR: Sweet. To be a kid again...

The words "blizzard" and "whiteout" seem to be getting thrown around with abandon. A deep snow for this area, I grant you, but I never heard the howling wind or saw nothing but white when I looked out my windows, unlike the "blizzard" and "whiteout" conditions that I grew up with in the upper Midwest... Is there a technical definition of blizzard?

FR: From the American Meteorological Society Glossary: "The U.S. National Weather Service specifies a wind of 30 knots (35 miles per hour) or greater, sufficient snow in the air to reduce visibility to less than 400 m (0.25 miles). Earlier definitions also included a condition of low temperatures, on the order of −7°C (20°F) or lower, or −12°C (10°F) or lower (severe blizzard)." The NWS no longer uses temperature as a criterion for blizzard conditions. And the word was used during this storm because the NWS issued Blizzard Warnings for Central and Southern Maryland for several hours on Saturday morning and early afternoon, indicating the blizzard conditions were expected to occur and persist for three hours or more.

Gotta say, the snow plows have been sorely deficient on the backroads in this part of Baltimore County. Owings Mills, Reisterstown, Pikesville--the main arteries are pretty clean. But the secondary and tertiary roads are in bad condition. Have the budget cuts hit snow removal? Or was the focus put on M&T Bank Stadium and all of the arteries leading into it?

On an unrelated note... what do you think about the Christmas Eve storm?

Looks like it won't be all snow but ice... or just rain?

FR: Looks like we won't get a Christmas Eve snow globe, but rather freezing rain overnight, changing to all rain Christmas Day. And that would make a mess of what's on the ground (since melting this week will be slow amid cold temperatures), perhaps causing some localized flooding. Clear those storm drains.

thanks for getting the answers to my questions; I learn something with nearly every entry!

I would have never guessed the seemingly low-tech solution of melting snow in a can to get the official precipitation number, but it does make sense. nearly 50" of precip in the last 9 months -- amazing.

your work is much apprecaited -- thank you!

After the 2003 storm, we said enough is enough. We moved to Florida. I have enjoyed looking at the pictures, which is a close as we ever want to get to snow again.

Frank, Events like this make global warming seem more and more like just a hoax. Obama's announcement on a plan to fight 'climate change' may have gotten more support if 50 million people weren't digging out from one of the worst blizzard's in history!!!!

FR: As we have said here before, this is WEATHER in one small strip of one country, not global CLIMATE. As one reader said, that fact that one person just got a promotion and a raise, does not prove that the recession is a hoax. Also, global warming theory predicts extreme precipitation events, such as big rainstorms, big snowstorms and big droughts. The three snowiest winter months in 127 years in Baltimore have all occurred since 1996. (December 2009, January 1996 and February 2003.

Does anyone that still believes in global warming support full scientific discussion on both sides of the issue? It seems to me that anyone that still believes says case closed and attacks those with disputing evidence and facts. I think algore refusing to debate his bible of global warming speaks volumes. And he is just one of many. If you believe stand up and prove your point but let the other side speak too.

I couldn't agree w/Bill in Salisbury more...There are TWO SIDES to the global warming debate. The pro-global warming angle gets rammed down our throats while anyone who questions it is shouted down and deemed to be simple-minded. PLENTY of evidence exists to refute the idea of global warming that goes unreported and instead needs to at the very least be acknowledged.

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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