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Posted at 7:00 PM ET, 02/ 8/2011

The top five U.S. snow storms

By Jason Samenow

top 5 storms.jpg
The top five snow storms according to NOAA's Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale. Source: NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory (see bigger image)

NOAA's Environmental Visualization Laboratory is featuring a neat image showcasing the highest impact snowstorms on record, using its Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS).

More from NOAA about NESIS and the above image:

The [NESIS] Scale ranks the social, economic, and transportation impacts of winter storms, factoring in how large the storm was, how much snow fell, and what populations were affected. Using a Category 1-5 ranking, the top Northeast U.S. storms are shown in this image. The darkest blue areas represent the most impacted areas of a storm system.
Interestingly, as large and intense as the recent winter 2010-2011 storms have been, none (preliminarily) have made it into the Top 10 storms list. In fact, the Groundhog Day storm is currently ranked at #19. To have a significant statistical weight, a storm must produce 20-30" of snow and occur over highly populated areas. Since the Midwest is not as densely populated as the DC through Boston corridor, storms that peak in the Northeast will typically have a higher intensity on the NESIS Scale.

Interestingly, Snowmageddon also fails to make the top 10 (it ranks #24), largely because it slid out to sea before reaching New York City and Boston.

Good news for snow lovers? Three of the top five have occurred after today's date!

Additional information about the NESIS scale and storm rankings can be found on the National Climatic Data Center website.

By Jason Samenow  | February 8, 2011; 7:00 PM ET
Categories:  History, Latest, U.S. Weather, Winter Storms  
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Good news for snow lovers? Three of the top five have occurred after today's date!

Best part of the entire article :) NOW THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!

Posted by: dannythe357 | February 8, 2011 7:07 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Brian-CapitalWeatherGang | February 8, 2011 7:45 PM | Report abuse

Now that IS neat!

dannythe357 - you are SO right. And, the #1 storm was in March! Look at that thing, snow in southern Louisiana/New Orleans!? Crazy.

Interesting rating system. It doesn't take too much for snow to be "crippling" in the South and a great deal more to be "crippling" in New England. Those must have been MAJOR storms.

Posted by: holly6 | February 8, 2011 8:15 PM | Report abuse

The evening of March 12 1993 was when we met our then-6-month old son at National Airport; he had flown from Seoul and then from Detroit. The snow started just as we were leaving the airport. We made it home to Aspen Hill without too much difficulty... and then couldn't leave the house for 3 days. An amazing time for our family.

Posted by: skidge | February 8, 2011 8:23 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, I missed all of these except the presidents day '03 storm because I grew up in Texas. (more specifically Houston)

Not much snow down there. Although, i was pretty shocked to see the winter storm warnings all the way to Brownsville just recently!

I'm just glad I was lucky enough to be here to experience last winter, though!


Posted by: BobMiller2 | February 8, 2011 8:49 PM | Report abuse

The Feb. 15-18, 2003 storm is the Presient's Day blizzard. I was at the Best Western just off I-95 in Baltimore for a weekend event. Snowed all day Sunday, dug my car out on Monday, but couldn't leave until Tuesday noonish. Had to wait for Baltimore to plow the one block to the I-95 on-ramp.

Posted by: rlguenther | February 8, 2011 8:50 PM | Report abuse

Return Periods for Top-5 NESIS snow storms @

"The return period for the MAR-93 Superstorm is more than twice as long as its nearest neighbor...the Great Blizzard of JAN-96.

Consider yourself lucky to have been alive when these genuinely historic storms occurred b/c it'll likely be a long...long time before a snow storm will have such a severe impact on the NE again."

Posted by: NEWxSFC | February 8, 2011 10:29 PM | Report abuse

put this one:
feb 9-10 (snowverkill)

on top of this one:
feb 5-6 (snowpocalypse)

that's what we had last

snowpocalypse alone was better for falls church than any of those "top 5" storms.

are you saying we get a march '93 storm once every 350 yrs?! that seems way too infrequent. and a jan '96 storm once every 150 yrs? no way. something's wrong with that graph.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 8, 2011 10:47 PM | Report abuse


What's do you find wrong with the chart? It's based on an accepted methodology to compute return-periods of extreme events.

The Gumbel distribution for NESIS storms shows a return period for those two extreme storms _is_ indeed that long.

Look at the return-period for last winter's season-total snowfall @BWI. It's 675 years!

While you may not be willing to accept the statistical technique as have offered nothing as an alternative analysis. I'd be interested to compare your return-period calculation with mine.

Posted by: NEWxSFC | February 8, 2011 11:15 PM | Report abuse

How about the Feb., 1982 [1983?] storm, the 1979 Presidents' Day storm ...and the Knickerbocker Storm of 1922?

Shouldn't those three storms have made the chart...or are we only talking about RECENT snowstorms here?

Posted by: Bombo47jea | February 9, 2011 12:15 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: Bombo47jea | February 9, 2011 12:15 AM

That's just for a wide area across the US. Locally, I'm sure the rankings would be different.

Posted by: RedCherokee | February 9, 2011 3:19 AM | Report abuse

well, maybe i'm not understanding it properly. is it saying it will be another 350 years before there is another storm as "big" as the march '93 storm?

if that's what it's saying then i don't believe that's correct. sure that was a big storm and all, that affected lots of people and property, but 350 years is a looooong time. heck, we've only been recording these storms for barely over 100 years.

in the less than 20 years since '93, we've had a few storms come close. maybe steveT or some weather historian can weigh in, but 350 years seems way too long of a "return period" for that storm.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 9, 2011 6:57 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the link. Gotta love NOAA.

Why is Snowmageddon not in their Top Five?

Posted by: jaybird926 | February 9, 2011 7:25 AM | Report abuse

see jason's article:
"Interestingly, Snowmageddon also fails to make the top 10 (it ranks #24), largely because it slid out to sea before reaching New York City and Boston."

according to this, the president's day '79 storm ranked 22nd.

those scales consider not only the storm itself, but how many people the storm affected.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 9, 2011 7:37 AM | Report abuse

you said you wanted to compare your return period calculation to mine. well, i don't have one, but i'd suggest the graph you show needs to go "vertical" much longer before beginning it's approach to the horizontal asymptote.

also, i think NESIS index (i.e., 13.20, 11.78 etc...) is a very dubious way to rank a storm - as it factors in the population affected. i guess that's a good measure of "impact", but not so much of the storm itself. when ranking/indexing hurricanes we don't downgrade a storm if it happens to miss people/property. anyway, the fact that it does include population makes the 350 year figure even more unlikely as the population in the mid-atlantic and new england is only growing.

btw, i totally LOVE the picture of the "Car in Winter on 7th Avenue, by Louis Stettner - 1956" at the bottom of the page. omg, that is so cool - and clever of the photographer to have noticed it.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 9, 2011 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Walter, I try to read the article before commenting but failed to do so this time. My bad.

Posted by: jaybird926 | February 9, 2011 10:25 AM | Report abuse

@ walter et al,
The return period doesnt mean that a storm like that won't happen again for 350 years, think of it more as a probability. For a "100 year" storm, there is a .01% chance of it happening in a given year, for a 200 year storm a .005% chance, and for a 350 year storm, whatever 1/350 is.

Posted by: bouncinggorilla | February 9, 2011 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Nice to see the blizzard of 96 up there, still one of my most vivid childhood memories.

Posted by: zuluhammer | February 9, 2011 11:54 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe that you forgot about the Blizzard of '77 in Buffalo. That was still their biggest snowfall in history.

Posted by: ktf2 | February 10, 2011 3:20 PM | Report abuse

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