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 the Lafayette Park in front of the White House.
National Journal
Marina Koren
Jan. 6, 2014, 8:46 a.m.

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.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4645) }}

What We're Following See More »
GOP Budget Chiefs Won’t Invite Administration to Testify
1 days ago

The administration will release its 2017 budget blueprint tomorrow, but the House and Senate budget committees won’t be inviting anyone from the White House to come talk about it. “The chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees released a joint statement saying it simply wasn’t worth their time” to hear from OMB Director Shaun Donovan. Accusing the members of pulling a “Donald Trump,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the move “raises some questions about how confident they are about the kinds of arguments that they could make.”

Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
1 days ago

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
1 days ago

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
18 hours ago

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
5 hours ago

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.