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The Winter Of 1976-1977 - Eastern US Weather Forums

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The Winter Of 1976-1977


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#1 FoothillsNC

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Posted 31 October 2009 - 11:07 PM

The entire Winter of 76-77 was cold but January 1977 was an astonishingly cold month east of the Rockies. Buffalo never went up to freezing that month (went below 32 December 25 and stayed below until Feb 9). Lake Erie reached freezing earlier than ever (Dec 14)and froze over by month's end.
The snow had reached record levels and the surface of the snow pack was just a few feet below traffic lights and power lines in western New York.

Attached File  SnowTrafficLights.jpg (23.06K)
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Cincinnati had 28 days with a below zero temperature in January, and the Ohio River froze over enough so that people walked across it.

Attached File  Winter1977_OhioRiverFrozenJan77.jpg (65.47K)
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Snow even accumulated in Tampa
Attached File  SnowcoveredCarTampa.jpg (30.67K)
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Even in the Southeast, many sites had an average temperature below freezing. Impressive. Many places in the Ohio Valley were extremely below normal, up to 17 degrees monthly average departure. Incredible.
Attached File  Jan1977TempAnomalies.gif (36.6K)
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Attached File  Winter1977_NAmericaMeanHeightsJan77.gif (24.79K)
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The month of Jan '77 was the product of two primary forces: A well developed strong positive PNA signature and recurring negative NAO. A normal PNA flow will deliver average cold, but an anomolous tall PNA pattern, coupled with higher heights in Greenland can be considered the dynamic duo that sustained this amazing month. To add to the excitement of this month, an El Nino was ongoing, as it was weak to moderate in the late 70's. So it wasn't a dry cold, but instead a cold + snowy active pattern for many.
Attached File  ENSOgraph1950_1995.gif (10.95K)
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I'm not sure what other factors played into the development of this combination of factors to deliver perhaps the mother of all Winter months on record, but besides the strong PNA pattern, Aleutian Low, Greenland Block and 50/50 lows that pervaded the month, the Eurasian snowcover might have helped paved the way. You can see that some of the more notable Winters in the country, esp. central and east, were preceded by anomalously high Siberian/Asian snowcover. Clearly 1976/77 sticks out well. Some other examples may be 02-03, 96 (weakly), 93, 82. Some years the correlation doesn't work. In fact 86/87 was a very memorable active winter but doesn't fit this mold.
Attached File  SnowcoverAnomalygraph.gif (76.2K)
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One interesting thing about the cold airmasses, I couldn't find any with strong High Pressures. All that was needed was the sustained deep PNA flow , which was able to penetrate unusually far south almost all month....thanks to the high heights over Greenland that waffled back and forth toward the North Pole.
Attached File  Jan10_1977NAmericaHeights.gif (26.51K)
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Attached File  Jan10_1977NHemisphereHeights.gif (43.64K)
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Because of the blocking that frequented the arctic cirlce, the northern hemisphere was left with 3 stable domes of cold, Scandinavia, Asia and North America, which was a self feeding ocean-land setup perfectly suited to the generation and formation of cold airmasses
Attached File  Jan12_1977NHemisphereheights.gif (44.82K)
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The weather maps that Winter were dominated with one cold front after another, pushing southeast through the country, about every 2 to 3 days. Each one associated with light to moderate snow and ice, even will south, and for the Great Lakes, when a lobe of the Polar Vortex came down, it was about the worst blizzard on record for the Ohio Valley and western New York in terms of blowing snow and cold wind chills and drifting. Houses got completely buried in powder.
A few surface maps: It's 1 in Atlanta, 3 in Birmingham, -20 in Louisville
Attached File  Winter1977_MonJan17_1977_SoutheastSurface.gif (585.77K)
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Snow in Florida
Attached File  Winter1977_WedJan19_1977_SnowInFlorida.gif (188.41K)
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The depth of the 5H eastern troughs were unusual, but common this Winter
Attached File  Winter1977_WedJan19_5HSuperCold.gif (402.55K)
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I posted this map because someone had scribbled a note across the top
Attached File  Winter1977_FriJan28_1977BlizzardSfcMap.gif (423.32K)
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I looked through the whole month at The Daily Weather Maps Project http://docs.lib.noaa...ather_maps.html and it's replete with southern tracking snow and ice storms, double barreled lows, and one infamous blizzard. Some of the cold fronts in the South didn't have rain as the usual precip type, but snow. You know its cold when you're on the backside of a high, and cold fronts develop a line of snow almost from the Gulf Coast to the Lakes.

I'm not saying this Winter will be like that one, but several forecasters seem to think there's a few ingredients in place to set up periods of anomolous western ridging and neg NAO with an active southern branch, or even an unusually far south northern branch. There's too many factors that would have to come into play almost perfectly to deliver anything close to the month of Jan 77, such as PDO, strength of the nino and what location its strongest, the stratospheric warmings and how it relates to the -AO, periods of Greenland or 50/50 or even Polar blocking, etc. It's pretty interesting to see what does happen though, when everything goes right. It's happened before.

#2 uncle w1

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Posted 31 October 2009 - 11:14 PM

there was one juicy storm from the Gulf but it tracked due north west of NYC...It started as snow but changed to rain for the most part...A quick freeze after the storm left a few inches of ice left on the ground...

#3 southmdwatcher

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Posted 31 October 2009 - 11:26 PM

January 1977, the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River froze over completely. Even at Ocean City, MD the Atlantic Ocean froze out some distance from the beaches. I remember seeing ice fog several nights and temperatures dropped to -10 to -20 in the DC suburbs at night several times during that horribly cold winter. We did not get much snow here in Maryland during that period, but it was by far the coldest stretch of weather that I can remember.

#4 BeauDodson

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 01:16 AM

I would love to experience something like that again. I barely remember the extreme cold. It was quite an amazing winter. I didn't realize the Ohio River froze. That is amazing.

#5 Guest_WeatherWarriorMedia_*

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 01:36 AM

Posts like this remind me of why I love winter storms and extreme weather so much. Plus, a good place to learn a bit and if necessary look at the event further in detail. I just wish I was around for this one.

#6 cbw123

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 02:00 AM

That is some amazing cold for sure, i mean people have really been spoiled in these last couple decades of winters, when I hear people complaining that there cold and freezing and that they wished it was warm and springlike when the temperatures are in the 20s or even 30s during the winter season, I just can't help but want to tell them off. I mean seriously if you live in the northeast, midwest, plains, or what not and complain about that than just move to the deep south. I mean come on the winter's recently have been more or less a cold spring as I like to call it. True cold is very rare and people living in this generation have no idea what true cold is.

Just imagine if this winter we see another January 1977, people would go nuts. The impacts would be potentially devastating because no one would be prepared and just having a coat wouldn't do any good. Plus it's so difficult seeing winter months that have below freezing temperatures all month these days, even if everything is perfectly aligned for extended cold, there would also be some warm spell that gets mashed in there somehow.

Still I wonder if there is potential for seeing another winter of 1976-1977 in the future.

#7 snowman

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 02:15 AM

View Postsouthmdwatcher, on 31 October 2009 - 11:26 PM, said:

January 1977, the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River froze over completely. Even at Ocean City, MD the Atlantic Ocean froze out some distance from the beaches. I remember seeing ice fog several nights and temperatures dropped to -10 to -20 in the DC suburbs at night several times during that horribly cold winter. We did not get much snow here in Maryland during that period, but it was by far the coldest stretch of weather that I can remember.

I remember it well. Its just like you posted. Amazing winter. The bay had to have ice breakers to free up shipping chamnels. Very little snow that year.

#8 William

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 02:44 AM

View Postcbw123, on 01 November 2009 - 02:00 AM, said:

That is some amazing cold for sure, i mean people have really been spoiled in these last couple decades of winters, when I hear people complaining that there cold and freezing and that they wished it was warm and springlike when the temperatures are in the 20s or even 30s during the winter season, I just can't help but want to tell them off. I mean seriously if you live in the northeast, midwest, plains, or what not and complain about that than just move to the deep south. I mean come on the winter's recently have been more or less a cold spring as I like to call it. True cold is very rare and people living in this generation have no idea what true cold is.

Just imagine if this winter we see another January 1977, people would go nuts. The impacts would be potentially devastating because no one would be prepared and just having a coat wouldn't do any good. Plus it's so difficult seeing winter months that have below freezing temperatures all month these days, even if everything is perfectly aligned for extended cold, there would also be some warm spell that gets mashed in there somehow.

Still I wonder if there is potential for seeing another winter of 1976-1977 in the future.


Departures from normal in January 1977 were as great as -19. I've always considered January 1982 an equally severe winter month, though maximum minus departures were around -15, because January 1982 was much snowier, nationwide.

#9 OSUmetstud

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 04:14 AM

Deserves to be pinned IMO.

#10 LEESBURG 04

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 06:04 AM

My best memory from that winter was an ice patch that formed in some parking spaces out in front of our apartment that me and the other kids would slide on. It formed early and never went away....I guess I will never forget that because of the rarity of something like that and the fact that I can't recall anything similar since. Nonstop frozen water!!!

#11 CAD wedge_NC

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 08:03 AM

Well, I was 12 years old in Jan 1977 but I remember it very well. There was one winter event early that month (don't recall the exact day) that started as snow at 37 degrees and the snow came down at such a rate (huge cotton-ball flakes)that it accumulated even though the temp stayed in the mid-30's. We had about 3 inches before the changeover to rain. The temp did drop to 33 after dark and it continued to rain all night. There were only patches of snow left the next morning. That was the only big storm we had that month. After the storm we had a major arctic blast that flash-froze everything. There were a few small snows during that month but the thing that stands out the most is that the ground stayed frozen all month and there was traces of snow in the shady areas from early Jan til sometime in Feb. Some of those days we barely got above 20 degrees with morning lows in the lower single-digits. Just an amazingly cold month. I don't think I will live long enough to see that monthly temp record broken, but who knows, this could be the winter.

#12 goobagooba

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 10:41 AM

I remember reading that in January of '77, it was the first time in recorded history that there was snow on the ground in every state in the lower 48.

#13 GaWx

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 10:51 AM

Although I'd love to see another historic winter like 1976-7 and would take it in a heartbeat, I have the impression that many on here would actually be disappointed due to the relative lack of snowfall in many areas. A number of people here pretty much have admitted that snowfall far outweighs cold. Some have even said that cold with little snow is useless and would rather it be warm and relatively snowless than cold and relatively snowless. I like both cold and wintry precip. (of all kinds).

#14 hoodlow77

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 10:59 AM

View Postgoobagooba, on 01 November 2009 - 10:41 AM, said:

I remember reading that in January of '77, it was the first time in recorded history that there was snow on the ground in every state in the lower 48.

thats impressive

I was born Nov. 1977, so I didn't get to witness that event. But checking NWS records for pgh, Jan 77 has the record for coldest average temp ever..second place isn't even close.

#15 blizzard9

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 11:08 AM

January 2004 was almost as cold as January 1977 in the East, was it not? I think that was a top 10 month for snow and cold in New York City.

#16 bluewave

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 11:14 AM

Great Post.

You can see the beginnings of the pattern developing during the Spring-Summer of 1976.

A strong Aleutian/North Pacific Low was becoming established.





By the Fall of 1976 ,this feature consolidated more to the west and intensified allowing strong ridging to build across Western North America and a trough to the East setting the stage for that amazing winter.




#17 LongRanger

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 11:40 AM

That was the winter that solidified my interest in weather. A month like Jan '77 does not come around often.

I see on those Daily Weather Map clips that even Key West didn't want to be left out: they're showing a snow shower within the past hour... they might have been stretching things a bit since no more than an hour later they reported a temp of 57.

#18 Lee

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 11:40 AM

I remember it well. Simply amazing!! This area wasn't shorted with the snow as it was very snowy; just no monster storms. I think the biggest was 8 inches. Totalled 45 to 90 inches in respect to elevation.

The cold and snow came early; the first measurable snow being November 12th/13th with 3-6 inches falling( from lowest to highest elevation). By months end 12 to 20" had fallen.

From December 7 to Feb. 15, snow was observed continuous on the ground in shady areas with it piling up 2-4 feet in spots. I recall the snow was so frozen and compacted that a neighbor and myself would walk on top of it! ( there had been a couple of freezing rain episodes that winter that helped "harden" the snow.)

I remember reports in the news of folks water lines freezing @ depths of 30 inches!
Needless to say,being in a mountainous area, school was out much of the Winter; I think we went ONE day in January! I remember the last day of school being set for June 10th and being told that if we were to make up for all the missed days we would be going to mid July.

The severity of that winter ended abruptly the middle of February.

One other major weather happening that year was the great flood of April 4th. After all the heavy snowpack melt there were lots of heavy rains. Then on this particular day, continuous heavy rain pounded the entire area with over 7 inches with most of that falling in the hours from 6 am to 12 pm. as embedded storms moved through. Severe flooding to the likes was never witnessed in the area ensued. There are alot of articles along with pics regarding this online. just google appalachian flood of 77.

Another note of interest: the following winter, although not as sharply cold as the previous coldest was,was still very cold and much snowier and (60-110")longer. Snow lay on the ground , solid, from early December 'till early March! There were several 8 inch or more snowfalls with the biggest being in November in which 11 to 16" fell.

#19 FoothillsNC

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 11:44 AM

View PostGaWx, on 01 November 2009 - 10:51 AM, said:

Although I'd love to see another historic winter like 1976-7 and would take it in a heartbeat, I have the impression that many on here would actually be disappointed due to the relative lack of snowfall in many areas. A number of people here pretty much have admitted that snowfall far outweighs cold. Some have even said that cold with little snow is useless and would rather it be warm and relatively snowless than cold and relatively snowless. I like both cold and wintry precip. (of all kinds).


Everything was so progressive, there was just a non stop parade of fronts about every 2 to 3 days a new one was blasting through. Even though it didn't develop many big events, there was light precip associated with almost every front and trough that came through. This is especially true for the South where the Gulf was open to be tapped with somewhat of a split flow at times and /or the northern stream was able to dig far enough south and west to scoot across the Tennessee Valley to Gulf with light snow on numerous occasions. But the theme was bitter cold that was relentless especially for the Ohio Valley that never had a chance to warm up any, even before the next front. If you get a chance to read on the Buffalo blizzard, that was pretty serious and a interesting read to see how many unprecedented events occured.

#20 GaWx

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 11:48 AM

View PostFoothillsNC, on 01 November 2009 - 11:44 AM, said:

Everything was so progressive, there was just a non stop parade of fronts about every 2 to 3 days a new one was blasting through. Even though it didn't develop many big events, there was light precip associated with almost every front and trough that came through. This is especially true for the South where the Gulf was open to be tapped with somewhat of a split flow at times and /or the northern stream was able to dig far enough south and west to scoot across the Tennessee Valley to Gulf with light snow on numerous occasions. But the theme was bitter cold that was relentless especially for the Ohio Valley that never had a chance to warm up any, even before the next front. If you get a chance to read on the Buffalo blizzard, that was pretty serious and a interesting read to see how many unprecedented events occured.


Actually, it did give my area, (SAV, GA), way more than average snow with ~2" (even more than ATL). AVG is more like 0.2" and the vast majority have none. Another example of the SE and mid-Atlantic often not having similar snow results with regard to normals.





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