Snow daze: Remembering the 5 biggest blizzards to hit Pennsylvania in recent history

Tim Stevenson shovels snow against a railroad tie placed in front of a friend's driveway on Foster Avenue in Marshfield, Mass., March 13, 1993, as a winter storm moved into New England. The men hope this little barrier will keep sea water from rolling down the driveway and into the basement when the surf comes over the sea wall across the street. (AP Photo/Stephen Savoia)

By The Keystone Staff

January 4, 2024

Get out the shovels and ice melt. We’re looking back on Pennsylvania’s biggest snowstorms of the past few decades.

The last few years have been relatively quiet on the snowstorm front in Pennsylvania. It was back in December of 2020 that we last experienced any kind of record-setting snowfall, when Williamsport received more than 24 inches of snow over Dec. 16 and 17, breaking the previous two-day record of 17.2 inches set back in 1969.

Philadelphia hasn’t even seen more than an inch of snow in nearly two years. The last time Philadelphia received more than an inch was Jan. 29, 2022, when 5.8 inches of snow fell.

A winter storm watch is in effect for parts of the state this weekend, but it doesn’t appear we’ll see significant snowfall. As of Thursday, the forecast ranged from less than an inch in Pittsburgh, with 1-to-3 inches predicted in Allentown, Lancaster, and Scranton, and 3-to-5 in Harrisburg, Johnstown, State College, and Williamsport. In Philly, the forecast only calls for rain.

While we wait for Pennsylvania’s next blizzard, let’s take a look back at five big snowstorms from the past few decades that wreaked havoc on Pennsylvania.

The Blizzard of ‘93

For three days in March of 1993, the East Coast was slammed with one of the worst blizzards in recorded history. Pennsylvania was not spared the destruction of the Blizzard of ‘93, often referred to as The Storm of the Century. According to Only in Your State, 49 Pennsylvania residents lost their lives due to the storm that dumped 23.6 inches of snow in Pittsburgh, more than 20 inches in Harrisburg, and more than 13 inches in Philadelphia.

The extent of the storm led then-Governor Bob Casey Sr. to declare a statewide state of emergency, the first one since the late 1970s when an ice storm blanketed much of the state.

National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) reports the storm was a Category 5 and one of the most devastating storms of the 20th century, covering one of the largest areas ever recorded and affecting over 100 million people. It also caused the largest interruption of air travel due to weather in the United States to date.

Snow daze: Remembering the 5 biggest blizzards to hit Pennsylvania in recent history

Industrial snow blowers shoot plumes of snow off a runway at the Philadelphia International Airport Monday, Jan. 8, 1996. A record 27.6 inches of snow fell in the Philadelphia area forcing the airport to close. (AP Photo/Chris Gardner)

The Blizzard of ‘96

1996 heard about the Blizzard of ‘93, and said, “hold my beer.” Another Category 5 storm, according to NCEI, it rivaled 1993 for “crippling snowfall.” From Jan. 8-9, from Central Virginia up to Southwestern Massachusetts, an average of 30 inches of snow fell, with Philadelphia receiving a whopping 30.7 inches, over twice of what it got in 1993. Berks Nostalgia reports that part of Berks County received “34 inches of snow, but the raging winds caused major drifts which made the snow pile up to 100 inches high in certain areas.”

After the blizzard came major flooding, adding to the destruction caused by the storm in regions like the Wyoming Valley. Ten days after the storm, temperatures rose into the mid-60s, winds gusted at 40 mph, and rain arrived causing the snow to melt quickly. The Wyoming River reached a level of up to 38 feet and forced an evacuation of the area. Fortunately, levees — reinforced after 1972’s Agnes Flood — held fast, according to Times Leader.

Snow daze: Remembering the 5 biggest blizzards to hit Pennsylvania in recent history

An Amish woman who wished not to be identified, shovels a path at the Fairview Amish School during a blizzard in Ronks, Pa., Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Snowmageddon 2010

When was the first time you heard the term “Snowmageddon?” Chances are it was in 2010 in the earlier days of social media when snow buried the mid-Atlantic and Facebook and Twitter users referred to the storm as “Snowmageddon” or the “Snowpocalypse.” From Washington, D.C. up to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, snow all but shut down the region.

In Pennsylvania, the storm that raged from Feb. 5-6 buried much of the state in an average of 20 inches of snow. Then, just as everyone had dug out, a few days later another snowstorm hit. From Feb. 5-11, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Philadelphia saw 44.3 inches of snow. Pittsburgh saw more than 21 inches. And the whole country was talking about “Snowmageddon” on social media.

Snow daze: Remembering the 5 biggest blizzards to hit Pennsylvania in recent history

A man walks next to a frozen Allegheny River in downtown Pittsburgh Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. Over the weekend, as a blizzard pounded the East Coast. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

2016’s Winter Storm Jonas

The official snowfall total in Harrisburg was 30.2 inches when Winter Storm Jonas finished walloping the region from Jan. 22-23, reports PennLive. Mechanicsburg saw even more: 36.9 inches. It is still the largest snowstorm the Harrisburg region has seen in terms of accumulation. The storm was heaviest in central Pennsylvania, but other regions received significant snowfall, including Philadelphia with 22.4 inches.

Portions of the Pennsylvania Turnpike came to a standstill, with more than 500 motorists stranded for upwards of 24 hours, prompting changes to how Turnpike authorities prepared for storms. According to PennLive, the storm’s impact prompted new focus on stockpiling food and emergency supplies, looking into creating more access gates on the highway, and implementing a new emergency alert system for motorists and improving communication with community partners and state agencies.

Snow daze: Remembering the 5 biggest blizzards to hit Pennsylvania in recent history

Frank Necci clears snow from St. Andrews Catholic Church, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, in Erie, Pa. The cold weather pattern was expected to continue through the holiday weekend and likely longer, according to the National Weather Service, prolonging a stretch of brutal weather blamed for several deaths, crashes and fires. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Erie’s 2017 Christmas Snowfall

Dreaming of a ‘White Christmas” is one thing. Having one that brings more than five feet of snow over Dec. 24-26 is another. But, in 2017, the Erie region saw 65.1 inches of snowfall in those three days, according to Weather.com. Bah humbug.

A stationary lake-effect snow band off Lake Erie contributed to the extreme amount of snow that year. Erie Airport reported a record-breaking 34 inches of snow on Christmas Day. The three-day storm contributed a good portion to the record breaking 102.1 inches of snowfall in the Erie region, giving Erie more snow in one month than it usually sees in a year.

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