Meteorologists have confirmed that last week’s blizzard, which brought the nation’s capital to a standstill and claimed at least 27 lives, was one of the worst in the recorded history of the Northeast.
The blizzard was the fourth-worst winter storm to hit the Northeast since 1950, according to the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale, a measurement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“This storm ranks up there with the great blizzards of the past 100 years in terms of amount of snowfall, size of impacted areas and population affected,” Paul Kocin, a meteorologist who helped develop the scale, said in a statement.
The measurement ranks snowstorms in the Northeast by their amount of snowfall, the total area of snow and the number of people affected by the storm. It uses a five-tier scale to categorize storms, from “notable” in Category 1 to “extreme” in Category 5. By this measurement, the blizzard was a Category 4, or “crippling,” storm, which covered 434 thousand square miles and affected approximately 102.8 million people.
To qualify for the ranking, a snowstorm must have a minimum 10 inches of snowfall; January’s blizzard had over 30 inches of snowfall in parts of northern Virginia, eastern West Virginia and western Maryland. The only Category 4 storm to rank higher than January’s is the blizzard of March 2-5, 1960, which primarily affected New England.
The worst storm this system ever recorded was the Category 5 blizzard of March 12-14, 1993, which The New York Times called “a monster with the heart of a blizzard and the soul of a hurricane.” That storm killed more than 300 people and caused $9 billion in damage in the U.S., Canada and Cuba.
The most recent Category 5 storm, and the only other Category 5 recorded by NESIS, occurred from Jan. 6-8, 1996.