Weather: Big-City Snows

Big-City Snows

While the southern snowfall experience is rare, the Midwest encounters just seem to go with the territory. One of the great ones occurred during the stormy, cold 1960s when, on January 26 and 27, 1967, Chicago picked up a record 19.8 inches in 24 hours. The Chicago storm total came to 23 inches. The snowfall rate was nearly one inch per hour for 24 hours—quite a heavy rate. That entire winter was rough in the Midwest. Chicago's snow-removal cost for the season turned out to be 10 times higher than normal. In 1999, New Year's Weekend brought a similar snowfall to Chicago when a storm total of 21.6 inches fell.

Other "big city" blitzes include a snowstorm that moved into New York on the day after Christmas in 1947. The center of the storm pushed into eastern Long Island. In New York City, the snow came down at a rate of two to three inches per hour during midday. Ten thousand cars were abandoned. In Central Park, the snow measured 26.4 inches.


The weather does show plenty of bluster in Chicago, but is Chicago really the windiest city? Weather records suggest that it may be the Windy City more because of its politics. The average wind speed in Chicago is 10.4 mph, and while that's plenty of wind, other cities have significantly higher winds. Boston has an average wind speed of 12.5 mph. Other cities with higher winds include Buffalo, Cape Hatteras, Honolulu, and Milwaukee. One of the windiest cities is Dodge City, Kansas, with an average 14 mph.

In Boston, where snowstorms are frequent visitors, the storm of February 6 through 8, 1978, turned out to be a record-setter. Snowfall came to 27.5 inches and, in addition, high winds caused extreme tides, which flooded coastal neighborhoods. Most of New England was shut down during that storm, which was preceded by very little warning. New computer models did indicate that a massive storm would move into the northeastern states, but in 1978, those computer projections weren't always used with confidence. On Sunday, February 5, the forecast called for some snow, related to a system moving eastward from the Great Lakes. In the words of one official forecast that reached my ears, "We don't expect a blizzard." Snow began just before daybreak on February 6 in western New England and moved slowly eastward. Many commuters were on their way to work when their cars became trapped in the heavily falling snow.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weather © 2002 by Mel Goldstein, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.