Tag Archives: US Winterstorm

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 2015: A Season to Remember (or Forget)

This winter has brought a barrage of storms and Arctic air to more than half of the U.S., notably the New England region, resulting in record amounts of snow, sleet, freezing rain, and bitterly cold temperatures.

Arguably, no other major city has been more directly impacted than Boston, Massachusetts. As of March 9, the city has received 105.7 inches of snow this season – over three times the average seasonal total for the region! It’s the second snowiest season on record, behind only the 1995-1996 season, which brought 107.6 inches of snow. Further, February 2015 marks the snowiest month reported (more than 60 inches) and the second coldest February on record.

Damage reports from this season’s snowstorms include roof collapses, building collapses, burst pipes, power outages, and business interruption. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency reported more than 160 collapsed buildings or buildings at risk of collapse since February 9 with damage mainly driven by dense snow pack and strong winds. As of February, Boston has already spent a record $35 million on snow removal – almost double the allotted total of $18.5 million.

U.S. Winterstorm Risk Map. Loss cost per $1000 for Residential lines at the ZIP code level, based on RMS U.S. Winterstorm Model output using the RMS 2011 U.S. Winterstorm IED.

Businesses and supply chains have been interrupted as well. A combination of snowstorms, cold weather, and ice has closed thousands of businesses, resulting in lost wages for hourly workers. These events have disrupted all forms of travel, restricting trucks and air freight from reaching their destinations and leading to increased prices for certain goods.

All in all, these types of impacts can result in significant economic and insured damages. According to a study by IHS Global Insight, a one-day snow-related shutdown would cost some states as much as $300-700 million in economic losses.

Insured loss estimates from the cluster of February storms (five in total) that swept through parts of the Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast are likely to exceed $1 billion, which is in line with annual averages. RMS model analysis shows that on average, about $2-3 billion in U.S. annual insured losses are caused by winter storms, which can produce a combination of snow, ice, freezing rain, and frigid temperatures. This is about 5-10% of the overall U.S. average caused by perils including hurricanes, severe convective storms, floods, and winter storms.

Whether it is in regards to the harsh winters of the last few years or future winters to come, it is important for the (re)insurance industry to be adequately prepared so insured losses remain at a minimum.