Veterans Day Weather History

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NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 11: Members of the elite Navajo Code Talkers, the famed U.S. Marine unit who delivered unbreakable codes during World War II battles against the Japanese, salute before the start of the annual Veterans Day parade November 11, 2009 in New York City. Thirteen of the 50 or so remaining Code Talkers participated in today’s parade for the first time. The nation’s largest Veterans Day parade featuring 20,000 participants in New York is celebrating its 90th anniversary. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Before getting into the main subject of this post, I want to take a moment and thank the men and women who have fought to protect freedom around the world.  Their sacrifice allows us to maintain the freedoms we’ve become so accustomed to over the years.  This includes the freedom of speech, which is exercised in this and the thousands of other blogs found throughout the internet.  In the grand scheme of things, this blog is relatively meaningless, but the idea that anyone, free of charge, can start a blog and express their ideas and interests to anyone around the world is quite meaningful, in my opinion.  Without the men and women of the armed forces, this may not be possible.

November 11 has long been a day to honor those men and women who have fought bravely in battle, but in some instances, the civilians of the U.S. have had to fight extreme weather at home.  Perhaps the most famous Veterans Day storm is actually referred to by the original November 11 remembrance – Armistice Day.  The Armistice Day blizzard of 1940 was one of the deadliest winter storms in U.S. history with over 150 fatalities.  Many of the dead were hunters who were out in the warm weather hunting duck.

Wait, warm weather?  Yes, that’s correct.  The day before (11/10), temperatures rose to above 60F across much of the central U.S.  Unfortunately, the dramatic change in temperature, and associated heavy snowfall, were not accurately predicted by the weather service.  In fact, the blown forecast from this storm brought about dramatic changes in how the weather service operated.  They expanded to 24-hour work days and increased the number of offices throughout the U.S.  At the time of the storm, Chicago, IL handled the forecasting for most of the region.

Cars buried in the snow near Minneapolis. Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Minnesota was hit the hardest.  Nearly a third of the fatalities occurred in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  They also recorded the greatest snowfall total with 27 inches in Collegeville, MN.  Of course, I’m not sure how accurate that measurement is given the extremely windy conditions (50-80 mph winds were common) and the subsequent drifting of snow.  If you would like to read more, I would encourage you to visit this site from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune where the original news articles are posted.  Also, the comment section is full of personal accounts of the storm, which make for quite an interesting read.

The 2+ feet of snow in Minnesota is nothing compared to what happened on the east side of Cleveland, OH in 1996.  From November 9-14, lake effect snow bands continually pounded the same snow belt cities east of the metro area.  In the end, snowfall totals reached nearly 70 inches in the snow-magnet town of Chardon, OH.  (Chardon averages 100 inches of snow each year while Cleveland Hopkins Airport, about 40 miles to the west, averages under 50 inches per year.)  The University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) has a web site dedicated to an in-depth case study of the storm.  It’s definitely worth a look, especially if you would like a lot of meteorological detail about the storm.  If you just like pictures, here’s a home video:

Washington, DC has also experienced some Veterans Day madness.  I’ll let the local NWS office explain:

November 11, 1987: The “Veteran’s Day Storm” will not be forgotten by many Washington travelers. Almost a foot (11.5 inches) fell at National Airport. Prince Georges County, MD was hard hit with up to 13 inches of snow falling in a short amount of time. It caught motorists off guard and stranded cars on the Capitol Beltway. There were so many cars that snow plows could not get through to open the clogged arteries. Cars littered the roadway for more than 24 hours. The event precipitated the development of the Washington Metropolitan Area Snow Plan to facilitate preparedness and response to future storms.

This storm struck before the days of lightning detection networks and Doppler weather radar. When thunderstorms began dumping heavy snow over the Fredericksburg VA, forecasters had no idea. The storm moved northeast across the southern Metropolitan area (Prince Georges County). It was not until the fast accumulating snow hit Camp Springs, where at the time the Weather Forecast Office was located, did forecasters realize what was happening.

Considering the DC area averages about 2 feet of snow for the year, getting half of the average in early November can cause some issues.

The DC area may be experiencing another Veterans Day to remember weather-wise, although they won’t have to deal snow.  Heavy rain from the remnants of Ida is causing major flooding issues along the coast as well as inland.  Norfolk, VA is allowing their residents to park in city garages to avoid flooding.  Of course, flooding is the number one weather killer, so you could argue this storm is more dangerous than any winter storm.

This probably isn’t a complete list of Veterans Day storms, so please feel free to add your own weather memories in the comments section below.

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