Tag Archives: blizzard

The Blizzard of 2016: The Historical Significance of Winter Storm Jonas

Many of us in the Northeastern U.S. can remember the Blizzard of 1996 as a crippling winter weather event that dumped multiple feet of snow across major cities along the I-95 corridor of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston.

20 years later, another historic winter storm has joined the 1996 event in the record books, this time occurring in a more socially connected world where winter storms are given names that share a resemblance to a popular boy band (thanks to the naming by The Weather Channel of Winter Storm Jonas).

Blowing and drifting snow on cars parked in an unplowed street in Hoboken, New Jersey at the height of the storm.
Credit: Jeff Waters, Meteorologist and resident of Hoboken from RMS

The Blizzard of 1996 saw (in today’s terms) an economic loss of $4.6 billion as well as insured losses of $900 million for the affected states, which corresponds to a loss return period within the RMS U.S. and Canada Winterstorm Model of roughly 10 years. Many of the same drivers of loss in the 1996 event were evident during Winter Storm Jonas, including business interruption caused by halted public transportation services in cities like Washington, D.C., and New York City, as well as coastal flooding along the New Jersey shorelines.

The Blizzard of 2016, dropped as much as 40 inches of snow in some regions of the Mid-Atlantic, causing wide scale disruption for approximately 85 million people, including over 300,000 power outages, cancellation of almost 12,000 flights, and a death toll of at least 48 people. The table below summarizes snowfall amounts for this year’s storm from three major Northeast cities as it compares to similar historic winter storms. These ranges of snowfall correspond to a 10-25 hazard return period event for the affected areas, according to RMS.

U.S. City

Blizzard of ’16 Blizzard of ’96 Snowpocalypse ’10 February 2006


22.4in/567mm 30.7in/780mm 28.5in/724mm 12.0in/305mm
Baltimore 29.2in/742mm 26.6in/676mm 25.0in/635mm


New York City 26.8in/681mm 20.5in/521mm 20.9in/531mm


*Data from the National Weather Service

Another comparison between 1996 and 2016 events are seen through the following NOAA link explaining how the two storms compared on the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS), which takes into account population and societal impacts in addition to meteorological measurements.

There were warning signs in the week leading up to the event that a major nor’easter would creep up the east coast and “bomb out” just offshore. This refers to a meteorological term known as “bombogenesis” in which the pressure in the center of the storm drops rapidly, further intensifying the storm and allowing for heavier snow bands to move inland at snowfall rates of 1-3 inches per hour.

One of the things that will make the Blizzard of 2016 one to remember are the snowfall rates of more than 1” per hour that affected several major cities for an extended period of time. According to The Weather Channel, “New York’s LaGuardia airport had 14 hours of 1 to 3 inch per hour snowfall rates from 6 a.m. Saturday until 8 p.m. Saturday.”

Another unique aspect of the storm was the reports of a meteorological phenomenon known as “thundersnow,” which according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), “can be found where there is relatively strong instability and abundant moisture above the surface.”

The phenomenon known as “thundersnow” was reported during Winter Storm Jonas and was captured by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly in this picture of lightning taken from a window on the International Space Station.
Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly via Twitter (@StationCDRKelly)

Time will tell how the Blizzard of 2016 compares to historic storms like the Blizzard of 1996 from an economic loss perspective, but the similarities in terms of unique weather phenomena as well as the heavy snowfall amounts across the major Northeastern U.S. cities will keep Jonas in the conversation.

An event like Winter Storm Jonas, coupled with the crippling Boston snowstorms from last year, makes it very important for those of us in the catastrophe risk space to understand its drivers and quantitative impacts. Fortunately, weather forecasting capabilities have improved substantially since the Blizzard of 1996, but its important to further understand the threats that winter storms pose from an insured loss perspective. Please reach out to Sales@rms.com if you are interested in learning more about RMS and our suite of winter storm models.

Winter Storm Juno: Three Facts about “Snowmageddon 2015”

By Jeff Waters, meteorologist and senior analyst, business solutions

There were predictions that Winter Storm Juno—which many in the media and on social media dubbed “Snowmageddon 2015”—would be one of the worst blizzards to ever hit the East Coast. By last evening, grocery stores from New Jersey to Maine were stripped bare and residents were hunkered down in their homes.

Blizzard of 2015: Bus Snow Prep. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

It turns out the blizzard—while a wallop—wasn’t nearly as bad as expected. The storm ended up tracking 50 to 75 miles further east, thus sparing many areas anticipating a bludgeoning and potentially reducing damages.

Here are highlights of what we’re seeing do far:

The snowstorm didn’t cripple Manhattan, but brought blizzard conditions to Long Island and more than two feet of snow in certain areas of New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

The biggest wind gust thus far in the New York City forecast area has been 60 mph, which occurred just after 4:00 am ET this morning.

From The New York Times: “For some it was a pleasant break from routine, but for others it was a burden. Children stayed home from school, even in areas with hardly enough snow on the ground to build a snowman. Parents, too, were forced to take a day off.”

Slightly north, The Hartford Courant received reports from readers of as much as 27 inches of snow in several locations and as little as five inches in others. They asked readers to offer tallies of snow and posted the results in an interactive map.

Massachusetts was hit hardest, with heavy snow and a hurricane force wind gust reported in Nantucket.

The biggest wind gust overall has been 78 mph in Nantucket, MA, which is strong enough to be hurricane force.

From The Boston Globe: “By mid-morning, with the snow still coming down hard, the National Weather Service had fielded unofficial reports of 30 inches in Framingham, 28 inches in Littleton, and 27 inches in Tyngsborough. A number of other communities recorded snow depths greater than 2 feet, including Worcester, where the 25 inches recorded appeared likely to place it among the top 5 ever recorded there.”

There’s more snow to come, but the economic impact is likely to be less than anticipated.

Notable snowfall totals have been recorded across the East Coast. Many of these areas, particularly in coastal New England (including Boston), will see another 6-12 inches throughout the day today.

It’s too early to provide loss estimates, and damages are still likely as snow melts and flooding begins, particularly in hard hit areas of New England like Providence and Boston. However, with New York City spared, the impact is likely far less significant than initially anticipated.