Del.’s snowstorm history offers a blizzard of memories

24dsn storm history schutte by .

Reminders of the monster storm of February 2010 lingered into March when a pile of snow dumped in Schutte Park failed to melt before the beginning of soccer season. The city of Dover had dumped the snow there during the height of clearing 30 inches of snow from streets. On Jan. 10, 2010, workers broke up the snow in March to expedite melting. (Delaware State News file/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — “Jonas” may be a monster of a storm, but the question is how will it be recorded in the annals of Delmarva weather events.

In the years before The Weather Channel appointed itself to name winter storms, the timing or nature of the event seemed to dictate how it came to be known: Presidents Day Storm — I and II, Blizzard of ’96, Blizzard of ’93, the Ice Storm of ’94. All were succinct and simple, if not original.

A different wind blew threw in 2010, though. The nature of back-to-back storms in February inspired creativity among news broadcasters and headline writers. Snowmageddon and Snowpocalypse, both a play on the apocalyptic prophecy found in the Bible’s book of Revelation, grabbed hold of the imagination of those digging out from nearly 3 feet of snow.

In the case of this weekend’s storm, the Blizzard of ’16 might be an appropriate tag since meteorologists predict it actually will meet the criteria for a legitimate blizzard. Meteorologically speaking, a blizzard must have winds at 35 mph sustained for at least three hours with “considerable falling and/or blowing snow” that reduces visibility to less than a quarter mile.

Here’s a look at some memorable storms from the last few decades:

Snowmageddon. Feb. 5-11, 2010.

The first storm hit Feb. 5 and 6, dropping 23.41 inches of snow on Kent County. New Castle’s 25.8 inches smothered the previous single event record of 19 inches, while Sussex County saw 21 inches.

Before that could melt, a second storm hit Feb. 9 and 10. Ultimately, all three counties received more than 30 inches of snow in less than a week.

At the peak of the second storm, more than 86,000 electricity customers in the state were without power, and utility crews from out of state were in Delaware during both storms to help restore service.

Almost 400 members of the Delaware National Guard were activated and more than 150 Guard vehicles were involved in emergency transportation and rescue missions.

The Delaware Emergency Management Agency near Smyrna was activated and staffed around the clock from Feb. 5 until Feb. 14. The Wilmington, New Castle, Kent and Sussex emergency centers also operated during the same time period.

The amount of snow continued to cause headaches into March when a small mountain of snow blocked the entrance to a parking lot at Schutte Park in Dover. Needing a place to dump snow in February, the city had dropped it in the park. Despite slowly rising temperatures the snow didn’t melt quickly, though, causing problems for soccer teams and other people wanting to use the park as spring approached.

The city ended up using front-end loaders to divide and conquer. A combination punch by sun and rain melted the resulting smaller snow piles into a watery memory.

The storms left an $8.8 million price tag, including $6.7 million in snow removal.

Kent County dodges a bullet. Feb. 11, 2006

Kent Countians’ neighbors to the north bore the brunt of a storm that dumped more than a foot of snow on New Castle County. Kent and Sussex skated by the worst with between 3 to 6 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Services. However, those few inches had police scrambling to respond to about 20 crashes in Kent County and 11 in Sussex.

There also were reports of trees across roads in outlying Kent County.

Presidents Day Storm. Feb. 16-17, 2003.

When the snow stopped falling on Feb. 17, which happened to be Presidents Day, central Delaware was left with a weighty problem as buildings collapsed and roofs sagged under the 20 to 24 inches.

Sheds and poultry houses, along with barns in Smyrna and Hartly, collapsed. Farmers were hit hard with livestock and chickens killed.

Dover buildings that collapsed included ClientLogic on Commerce Way, Atlantic Movers on McKee Road and SG Williams of Dover on Lafferty Lane.

Staff at the Delaware State News and the Modern Maturity Center nervously monitored sagging roofs. While those held up, the Dover Skating Center on U.S. 13 was not so fortunate. Its roof partially collapsed.

Dover Air Force Base did not escape damage either. It lost two bays.

Blizzard of ’96. Jan. 7-12, 1996

According to the Delaware State News’ Jan. 8, 1996, edition, “a brutal winter storm plowed through Delaware and the Northeast (Jan. 7) bringing normal activity to a virtual standstill and forcing state officials in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to declare emergencies.”

Then-Gov. Thomas R. Carper declared a limited state of emergency at 10 p.m. Jan. 6, which allowed him to call on the Delaware National Guard to help police and other emergency services on the following day. He declared a full state of emergency Jan. 7 and 8, closing government offices.

The storm dropped eight to 10 inches of snow and sleet on Kent County on Jan. 7, while northern New Castle County received nearly 20 inches. About 8 inches fell on Sussex.

A mixed bag of sleet, freezing rain and snow continued through Jan. 8. Final accumulations were 12 to 15 inches in Kent, 8 to 10 inches in Sussex County, and about 2 feet in New Castle County.

It also caused the General Assembly to delay its opening day from Jan. 9 to Jan. 10, the first time that had happened in memory.

Ice Storm of 1994. Feb. 8-15, 1994.

Ice is not cool. Just ask those who were without power for days, and in some cases a week, in February 1994 after freezing rain left a thick glaze of ice across trees, power and phone lines and roads. Power poles snapped and falling tree limbs took down lines.

Mail was not delivered from Feb. 9 to Feb. 12, according to Delaware State News’ archives.

A longtime employee with the Dover Post Office told the Delaware State News he had never seen such ice-laden steps, streets and roads in his “30-plus years” with the post office.

In March the state put the estimated cost of storm damage at $5 million but said it could go much higher. President Bill Clinton declared the area a major disaster, opening the way for state, county and local governments hardest hit by ice storms to receive federal money.

The bill for Dover alone was $827,000.

Blizzard of 1993. March 13, 1993

The storm was not noteworthy for high amounts of snow or ice, but rather for a low. On March 13, the barometer dipped to 28.41 inches in Dover as the center of the storm passed over the capital city.

“The lower the value, the stronger the storm,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Kirk A. Lombardy in a March 14 interview.

‘’With this storm, the pressure actually went lower than many hurricanes.’’

Mr. Lombardy also said that nowhere in the country on March 13 was the pressure lower than in Dover.

Kent County only received 5 inches of snow, with much of that turning to slush during the rain that followed. That, however, turned into ice.
Farther north, Wilmington had a different problem. It was on the receiving end of 14 inches of snow.

Presidents Day Snowstorm I. Feb. 17-19, 1979.

Memories of the first Presidents Day storm are resurrected every February when NASCAR kicks off its season with the granddaddy of races, the Daytona 500.

The storm in 1979 shut down the East Coast and housebound people turned to television for entertainment. It happened to be the first year a 500-mile race was broadcast live from green flag to checkered flag. The broadcast, aided by the infamous “there’s a fight,” introduced the nation to what had been a sport mostly popular in the South.

As for the storm itself, snow fell at rates of 2 to 3 inches per hour in Washington and was considered the worst in more than five decades to hit the nation’s capital. Snow as deep as 18 inches was reported in Washington and Baltimore.

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