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Worried About the Polar Vortex? A Blizzard 18 Years Ago Today Was Worse Worried About the Polar Vortex? A Blizzard 18 Years Ago Today Was Wors...

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Worried About the Polar Vortex? A Blizzard 18 Years Ago Today Was Worse

Temperatures across the country are dipping to dangerous lows Monday night. This time in 1996, they came with a deadly onslaught of snow.

Frozen leaves in Lafayette Park in front of the White House.(JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

photo of Marina Koren
January 6, 2014

Bundle up, Washington. It's going to be a cold night.

An arctic air mass, which some meteorologists are calling a "polar vortex," is currently hovering over much of the country, and it is as scary as it sounds. As many as 140 million Americans are feeling below-freezing temperatures and windchills. Here, the temperature will dip from a balmy 40 degrees during the day to a frigid 8 at night.

The polar vortex calls to mind another historic weather pattern, one that began brewing on this day 18 years ago: the Blizzard of 1996.

 

Starting Jan. 6 that year, a severe nor'easter sacked every city in the Northeast with 17 to 30 inches of snow in 1996. Cold air from Canada rushed south to the United States, colliding with warm winds rising up from the Gulf of Mexico to create a dangerous swirl of snow and wind. In D.C., snow began falling that Saturday night, reaching 15 inches in the metro area and 20 inches in the western suburbs in just 24 hours. Three days later, a fresh storm brought more heavy snow. Three days after that, a third storm dropped 5 to 12 inches on the already-blanketed region.

Metro rails froze, leaving 100 passengers stuck for five hours on a train near Takoma Park. Reagan National and Dulles International airports sat closed, covered in 17 inches and 25 inches of snow, respectively. The federal government shut down, and President Clinton declared the capital and nine states disaster areas. In Washington, schools and businesses only reopened on Jan. 16, a full 10 days after the first flurries began.

The blizzard led to 154 deaths and more than $1 billion in damage.

Monday night's and Tuesday's freezing cold in Washington, while memorable, is thankfully temporary, with temperatures expected to rise above freezing later in the week.

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