Thursday, October 9, 2014

Remembering the Surprise East-Coast Snowstorm of October 9-10, 1979

I think it's safe to say that a surprise event to this degree could not possibly happen in today's world of advanced forecasting.

October 9th, 1979 was a normal autumn day.  Temperatures were pretty warm across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast.  It actually climbed all the way up to 72 degrees at the Dale Enterprise Station in Harrisonburg, 4 degrees above average.  A cold front was progged to drop south out of Canada and through the area overnight bringing showers and cooler temperatures.  
10/9/1979 2pm Re-Analysis Map
Early during the day on Wednesday (October 10th), the cold front blasted through the region with much more of a punch than originally anticipated.  An area of low pressure developed along the front across the western Carolinas before tracking east-north-east across the Virginia Beach and riding up the eastern seaboard.  The trough in wake of the front extended all the way down into the Gulf States, providing enough cold air to transition rain to snow anywhere from western VA to DC and up the I-95 corridor of the northeast.  The strength of the upper level energy even led to reports of thunder and lightning under heavier bands. 
10/10/1979 2pm Re-Analysis Map
Many areas across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast ended up with their earliest snowfall on record.  Here's a few numbers across our area:

Harrisonburg: 8.0"
Bridgewater: 7.0"
Richmond: Trace
Dulles: 1.3"
Charlottesville: 2.6"
Roanoke: 0.3" 
Luray: 4.0"
With plenty of leaves still on trees, the storm caused widespread power outages (over 200,000 customers reported without power in the state of Virginia) forcing many schools and businesses to close. The National Weather Service, or any other forecasting agency for that matter, simply did not see it coming.  Below is an article taken from Herbert Close, Jr.’s report on the freak event.  

The snow quickly melted the next day with temperatures back into the 50s. As a matter of fact, a heatwave 10 days later led to a stretch of highs in the 70s and 80s and an overall pretty warm November and December with Harrisonburg recorded no snowfall.  The latter half of winter still produced as Harrisonburg ended up with 35.5" for the season,  9" above average.

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