February 1983 North American blizzard

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andtornadoes and tornado outbreaks of 1983
February 1983 North American blizzard
Nor'easter 1983-02-12 weather map.jpg
The low-pressure area causing blizzard conditions across portions of the Northeast on February 12

A blizzard in February 1983, nicknamed the "Megalopolitan Blizzard", impacted the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, and New England regions of the United States. First developing as a low-pressure area on February 9 while a El Niño event ensued, the low then moved eastward across the Gulf of Mexico. While the low progressed across the Gulf, several tornadoes associated with the system touched down across Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, ultimately resulting in ten injuries. The low then emerged over the Atlantic Ocean near the Georgia South Carolina border, later developing and intensifying into a cyclone as it moved parallel along the East Coast of the United States. The cyclone then moved northward while producing blizzard conditions and heavy snowfall across portions of the Mid-Atlantic on February 11, including across Maryland and northern Virginia. Continuing to intensify and moving northward, the cyclone then brought heavy snow and blizzard conditions to parts of the Northeast and New England. Overall, the blizzard caused 46 deaths and set multiple weather records in terms of snowfall. [2] [3]

Contents

Meteorological synopsis

In 1982 and 1983, a strong El Niño occurred, including on the dates during the blizzard's occurrence, which led to above-average temperatures across the northern United States and a cooler and wetter weather pattern across the South. [4] [5] On February 9, a low-pressure area formed, centered over eastern Texas and along the Texas-Gulf of Mexico coastline. [6] [7] It then progressed eastward across the Gulf the next day before moving across the Southeastern United States and emerging in the Atlantic Ocean off the Georgia-Florida coast. [6] [7] The low-pressure system then intensified and fully developed into a cyclone as it approached Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. [6] [7] As the cyclone moved northward along the East Coast of the United States, snow fell across the Mid-Atlantic beginning on February 11, with some areas experiencing blizzard conditions. [1] [8] The cyclone then produced snow and blizzard conditions across portions of the Northeastern United States and New England regions, continuing to intensify as its pressure dropped to 1003 millibars by February 12. [7] [1] [9] The low's pressure continued to drop on that day while reaching portions of southern New England [6] before tracking offshore northward off the New England coast. [10] The blizzard was nicknamed the "Megalopolitan Blizzard" after the system hit numerous metropolitan areas along the East Coast of the United States with 30–75 centimeters (12–30 in) of snow. [11] [12]

Preparations and impact

Mid-Atlantic

The SS Marine Electric pictured before its sinking. The cyclone caused the merchant ship to capsize on February 12, causing at least 31 deaths. Marine Electric.jpg
The SS Marine Electric pictured before its sinking. The cyclone caused the merchant ship to capsize on February 12, causing at least 31 deaths.

In preparation of the blizzard in Virginia, Eastern Mennonite University and James Madison University were closed, with the latter cancelling its classes for the first time since the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962. [13] At Richmond International Airport in Richmond, 17.7 inches (45 cm) of snow fell, which was the third-highest snow accumulation in the city on record. [14] [15] Daily snowfall records were set in Lynchburg and Roanoke, where 14.6 inches (37 cm) and 18.4 inches (47 cm) of snow fell in 24 hours, respectively. [16] [17] The heaviest snow fell in Woodstock, where 32 inches (81 cm) of snow accumulated. [13] The cyclone caused the SS Marine Electric, a merchant ship, to capsize, killing 31 of the 34 onboard and prompting an investigation into the incident and the ship's design itself by the United States Coast Guard's board of inquiry. [18] [19] As a result of the sinking, the Coast Guard's inspection procedures were modified and new additions and requirements were introduced to the maritime law enforcement's marine safety guideline. [19]

In Maryland, 22.8 inches (58 cm) of snow fell in Baltimore, which was the second-highest snowfall after the Knickerbocker storm in 1922. [8] Some areas in Frederick and Montgomery counties in Maryland had their heaviest snowfall on record. [20] In Washington, D.C., 16.4 inches (42 cm) of snow fell, closing Baltimore/Washington International Airport, Dulles International Airport, and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and shutting down the Washington Metro. [20] [21] Numerous vehicle accidents occurred in West Virginia, as there were more than 34,000 homes without power across Charleston and Pineville. [22] Among the highest snow accumulations from the blizzard occurred in Glengary, West Virginia, where 35 inches (89 cm) of snow accumulated. [1] [23] In Windsor Locks, Connecticut, a record 19 inches (48 cm) of snow fell in 12 hours. [24]

Northeastern United States

Snowfall totals across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States from the blizzard February 1983 nor'easter NESIS map.jpg
Snowfall totals across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States from the blizzard

In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the snow prompted firefighters and emergency management to sleep in the fire department's halls to prepare for emergencies. [25] On February 11, the heavy snowfall also cancelled Ronald and Nancy Reagan's trip to Camp David, causing Secretary of State George Shultz to be invited for dinner and marking the beginning of the shift towards ending the Cold War. [26] [27] The blizzard also produced 21 inches (53 cm) in Springfield, Massachusetts, the third-highest snowfall total there since 1905 as of 2013, [28] and resulted in thousands of people being stranded at an Aerosmith concert. [29] [30] The concert itself was delayed by more than an hour after the band's lead singer, Steven Tyler, arrived late because of the blizzard. [30] The blizzard produced the same snowfall total in Springfield, Massachusetts, as at Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut, which is recorded as the fourth-highest snowfall total there as of 2015. [31] Hundreds of vehicles were abandoned on the Staten Island Expressway as heavy snowfall rates occurred and up to 22 inches (56 cm) of snow fell. [9] [32] In Central Park, 17.6 inches (45 cm) of snow fell, which is the thirteenth-highest snowfall accumulation there since 1869 as of 2021. [33] [34] Twenty-four-hour snowfall records were set in Allentown, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia, with all three cities receiving more than 20 inches (51 cm) of snow. [1] [24] In Allentown and Bethlehem, 5 inches (13 cm) of snow fell in one hour. [35] At Harrisburg International Airport, 25 inches (64 cm) of snow fell, which is the second-highest snow accumulation across the Susquehanna Valley. [11] Lightning also occurred during the blizzard in some areas across the Northeast. [36]

Several airports were closed as a result of near-zero visibility caused by the heavy snowfall, including LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, and John F. Kennedy International Airport across the New York metropolitan area, as well as Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia. [37] Multiple departing flights from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport were cancelled, and the Pennsylvania State Police noted that Interstate 80 "closed itself". [38] Businesses and schools across Pennsylvania were closed, and Interstate 95 in Philadelphia was closed. [22] A snow emergency was declared in New York City, as well as a state of emergency for several areas in New Jersey, including Trenton. [22]

Tornado outbreak

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FUF0F1F2F3F4F5Total
035310012
Color/symbol key
Color / symbolDescription
Data from Grazulis 1990/1993/2001b
Data from a local National Weather Service office
Data from the 1983 Storm Data publication
Data from the NCEI database
Maximum width of tornado
±Tornado was rated below F2 intensity by Grazulis but a specific rating is unavailable.

Prior to 1990, there is a likely undercount of tornadoes, particularly E/F0–1, with reports of weaker tornadoes becoming more common as population increased. A sharp increase in the annual average E/F0–1 count by approximately 200 tornadoes was noted upon the implementation of NEXRAD Doppler weather radar in 1990–1991. [39] [note 1] 1974 marked the first year where significant tornado (E/F2+) counts became homogenous with contemporary values, attributed to the consistent implementation of Fujita scale assessments. [43] [note 2] Numerous discrepancies on the details of tornadoes in this outbreak exist between sources. The total count of tornadoes and ratings differs from various agencies accordingly. The list below documents information from the most contemporary official sources alongside assessments from tornado historian Thomas P. Grazulis.

February 9 event

List of confirmed tornadoes — Wednesday, February 9, 1983 [note 3]
F# LocationCounty / ParishStateStart Coord. [note 4] Time (UTC)Path lengthWidth [note 5] Damage [note 6]
F1 New Waverly Walker TX 30°32′N95°30′W / 30.53°N 95.50°W / 30.53; -95.50 (New Waverly (Feb. 9, F0)) 18:30–?2 mi (3.2 km)40 yd (37 m)$250,000
A hay-filled barn was uplifted, bits of which were thrown 200 yd (180 m). [53] [54]
F2±Southwestern Houston Harris TX 29°39′N95°27′W / 29.65°N 95.45°W / 29.65; -95.45 (Houston #1 (Feb. 9, F2)) 19:30–?1.5 mi (2.4 km)50 yd (46 m)$250,000
A carport was damaged, along with four warehouses, three of which were unroofed. Three injuries were reported. [55] [53] [56]
F1 Pasadena Harris TX 29°42′N95°02′W / 29.70°N 95.03°W / 29.70; -95.03 (Pasadena (Feb. 9, F1)) 19:50–?1 mi (1.6 km)20 yd (18 m)$250,000
A few trailers, fences, roofs, traffic lights, and a utility pole were damaged. [53] [57]
F1Northern Houston Harris TX 29°42′N95°16′W / 29.70°N 95.27°W / 29.70; -95.27 (Houston #2 (Feb. 9, F1)) 20:10–?1 mi (1.6 km)20 yd (18 m)$25,000
This tornado flattened a carport and damaged a garage. [53] [58]
F0Western Huntsville Walker TX 30°43′N95°37′W / 30.72°N 95.62°W / 30.72; -95.62 (Huntsville (Feb. 9, F0)) 20:15–?0.5 mi (0.80 km)20 yd (18 m)Un­known
A tornado developed over agricultural land, doing no known structural damage. [53] [59]
F1 Coldspring San Jacinto TX 30°36′N95°07′W / 30.60°N 95.12°W / 30.60; -95.12 (Coldspring (Feb. 9, F1)) 20:20–?0.5 mi (0.80 km)30 yd (27 m)$250,000
This tornado caused fallen utility poles and trees to land on a house. Billboards were shredded as well, and the tornado also traversed Texas State Highway 156. [53] [60]
F2±N of Manvel to near Pearland Brazoria TX 29°29′N95°21′W / 29.48°N 95.35°W / 29.48; -95.35 (Manvel (Feb. 9, F2)) 20:25–?8 mi (13 km)50 yd (46 m)$25,000
Trees and a few carports were torn apart. [55] [53] [61]
F2†SE of Eunice Acadia LA 30°26′N92°20′W / 30.43°N 92.33°W / 30.43; -92.33 (Eunice (Feb. 9, F2)) 23:30–?3 mi (4.8 km)150 yd (140 m)$250,000
This tornado affected the RichardHundley area, almost leveling a small home. [55] [62] [63]
F3E of Church Point to NNE of Courtableau Acadia, St. Landry LA 30°24′N92°11′W / 30.40°N 92.18°W / 30.40; -92.18 (Church Point (Feb. 9, F3)) 23:45–?21 mi (34 km)150 yd (140 m)$2,500,000
This was a multiple-vortex tornado. A church, a grain elevator, and at least seven homes were demolished. Seven people were injured. [64] [62] [65] [66] [67]

February 10 event

List of confirmed tornadoes — Thursday, February 10, 1983 [note 3]
F# LocationCounty / ParishStateStart Coord. [note 4] Time (UTC)Path lengthWidth [note 5] Damage [note 6]
F0Southwestern Miami Dade FL 25°39′N80°26′W / 25.65°N 80.43°W / 25.65; -80.43 (Southwestern Miami (Feb. 10, F0)) 21:45–?0.5 mi (0.80 km)20 yd (18 m)$30
This tornado caused window damage, felled trees, and downed power lines. [68] [69]
F0Western Hollywood Broward FL 26°08′N80°08′W / 26.13°N 80.13°W / 26.13; -80.13 (Hollywood (Feb. 10, F0)) 22:00–?0.5 mi (0.80 km)20 yd (18 m)$25,000
Coincident with golf ball-sized hail, this tornado damaged roofing and trees. [68] [70]
F1 West Palm Beach Palm Beach FL 26°41′N80°08′W / 26.68°N 80.13°W / 26.68; -80.13 (West Palm Beach (Feb. 10, F1)) 22:42–?2 mi (3.2 km)40 yd (37 m)$2,500
Power lines, fencing, and screened pool enclosures were knocked down. Trees were felled as well. [68] [71]

Notes

  1. Historically, the number of tornadoes globally and in the United States was and is likely underrepresented: research by Grazulis on annual tornado activity suggests that, as of 2001, only 53% of yearly U.S. tornadoes were officially recorded. Documentation of tornadoes outside the United States was historically less exhaustive, owing to the lack of monitors in many nations and, in some cases, to internal political controls on public information. [40] Most countries only recorded tornadoes that produced severe damage or loss of life. [41] Significant low biases in U.S. tornado counts likely occurred through the early 1990s, when advanced NEXRAD was first installed and the National Weather Service began comprehensively verifying tornado occurrences. [42]
  2. The Fujita scale was devised under the aegis of scientist T. Theodore Fujita in the early 1970s. Prior to the advent of the scale in 1971, tornadoes in the United States were officially unrated. [44] [45] Tornado ratings were retroactively applied to events prior to the formal adoption of the F-scale by the National Weather Service. [46] While the Fujita scale has been superseded by the Enhanced Fujita scale in the U.S. since February 1, 2007, [47] Canada used the old scale until April 1, 2013; [48] nations elsewhere, like the United Kingdom, apply other classifications such as the TORRO scale. [49]
  3. 1 2 All dates are based on the local time zone where the tornado touched down; however, all times are in Coordinated Universal Time for consistency.
  4. 1 2 All starting coordinates are based on the NCEI database and may not reflect contemporary analyses
  5. 1 2 The listed width values are primarily the average/mean width of the tornadoes, with those having known maximum widths denoted by ♯. From 1952 to 1994, reports largely list mean width whereas contemporary years list maximum width. [50] Values provided by Grazulis are the average width, with estimates being rounded down (i.e. 0.5 mi (0.80 km) is rounded down from 880 yards to 800 yards. [51] [52]
  6. 1 2 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Data publication does not list exact damage totals for every event, instead giving damage categories. As such, damage for individual tornadoes is not comprehensive.

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