On this day in 1996, snow begins falling in Washington, D.C., and up the Eastern seaboard, beginning a blizzard that kills 154 people and causes over $1 billion in damages before it ends.
The Blizzard of 1996 began in typical fashion, as cold air from Canada pushed down and collided with relatively warm winds from the Gulf of Mexico. The clashing weather fronts caused a terrible combination of snow and wind. Snow began to fall in the District of Columbia about 9 p.m.; 12 inches fell over the course of the next 24 hours. In Lynchburg, Virginia, it was worse: A record 20 inches of snow fell in a single day. Since wind gusts were reaching up to 50 miles per hour, snow drifts piled up in many areas and travel was nearly impossible.
As the storm moved northeast, it continued to break records. Newark, New Jersey, received a total of 28 inches over several days. Providence, Rhode Island, received 32 inches and Philadelphia was inundated with 30 inches. The Philadelphia schools were closed until January 16 due to the city’s inability to clear the heavy snow promptly from the streets.
Overall, the blizzard took a serious toll on both people and property. A church roof in Harlem collapsed, injuring several people in New York City. Barns all over Pennsylvania collapsed under the weight of so much snow. As a precaution, many supermarkets, which often feature large flat roofs, closed across the region. Two buses collided in Pittsburgh and 52 were seriously injured. The storm deaths were mainly the result of traffic accidents, collapsed trees and homeless people dying from hypothermia. In a few instances, people who were trapped in their cars died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Pennsylvania suffered the most deaths, with approximately 80.
President Bill Clinton was forced to shut down the federal government for nearly a week because of the storm. He declared D.C. and nine states to be disaster areas. Estimates of the total property damage suffered ranged from $600 million to $3 billion.
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