The 20th Anniversary of Massachusett’s April Fool’s Day Nor’easter

I wasn’t planning to write a series on notable springtime storms of the northeast, but I was considering writing something about this storm’s 20th anniversary. Instead, I spent much of this April 1st dealing with a brand new March 31/April 1 storm that brought me 12.3″ (31.2 cm) of snow here near Concord NH. While there are many March snow storms, there are a lot fewer in April. There is often ample atmospheric moisture in April, and its storms show what happens when there’s enough cold air available to make snow.

Besides, I knew that the good folks at the Blue Hill Observatory were in the maximum snowfall area of this historic storm and would be happy for me to share their own writeup.

april-1997-snow-cover

Blue Hill Observatory
Sky Mail
April 2017

Remembering the
“April Fool’s” Snowstorm
of 1997

This year’s March 31 – April 1 snowstorm from north of Boston into all of northern New England brings back memories from twenty years ago of the incredible “April Fool’s” nor’easter of 1997. This occurred when a rapidly deepening low formed off the New Jersey coast responding to a late season trough in the upper atmosphere. The storm then stalled just south of Martha’s Vineyard for about 12 hours producing snowfall rates as much as 3 inches per hour overnight, March 31 into April 1st. This storm still stands as the greatest 24 hour snowfall (29 inches, 74 cm) on record at Blue Hill Observatory.

Forever known as the “April Fool’s” snowstorm, the March 31- April 1 nor’easter produced 1 to 3-foot (30 to 90 cm) snowfall totals over a wide area. Boston recorded its heaviest April snowfall on record with 25 inches (64 cm), and its third-heaviest for any month. This amount roughly equaled what had fallen for the entire winter season that year in Boston. Several hundred thousand customers were without electricity during and after the storm due to the heavy/wet nature of the snow. Damage to trees in the area was extensive. High winds were also a problem with gusts in the 50 to 70 mile per hour (20 to 30 meters per second) range common along the coast. In Boston Harbor, the tip of one of the masts of the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) was sheared off by the winds. Blue Hill Observatory reported a wind gust of 72 mph (32 m/s).

From The Worst Central Massachusetts Nor’Easters, Cornell.edu we get the following description:

The Winter of 1996-1997 had been mild and March the 30th was no different with highs well into the 50s and a few 60s in some spots across southern New England. Residents of central MA woke up to heavy rain on the morning of the 31st with temperatures in the middle 30s. But by 10am, Worcester had changed over to heavy wet snow and it started accumulating rapidly. Thunder and lightning accompanied the snow in early afternoon as the storm strengthened rapidly east of NJ and then stalled for about 12 hours south of Martha’s Vineyard when it reached its max intensity of 979mb. Winds of 40-50mph were common during the storm to go along with the heavy wet snow.

Temperatures nudged just below 30F overnight to allow for the snow to accumulate much better. From about 6 p.m. on the 31st to 6 a.m. April 1st, central MA saw probably its heaviest 12 hour snowfall on record. There were about 6 inches of snow on the ground by 6 p.m. on March 31st, but by 6 a.m. on the 1st of April, Worcester residents awoke to 33 inches (84 cm) of snow on the ground to establish a new single storm record; a cruel April Fool’s Day joke to those who had enjoyed the mild winter. The only saving grace was that the snow melted quickly as warm April temperatures returned to the region a few days later. Other snowfall totals include 27 inches in Jaffrey, NH; 30 inches in Shrewsbury; with the jackpot of 36 inches in Milford. To the east, Boston received 25.4 inches (64.5 cm) of snow to break their all time 24 hour snowfall record, making it their 2nd greatest single storm total behind the Blizzard of 1978.

At Blue Hill Observatory the rain changed to heavy wet snow at 11:30 a.m. and 16 inches fell by midnight – winds gusted to 72 mph and the barometric pressure dropped to 995.1 mb by 7 p.m. on the 31st. On April 1st, an additional 14 inches fell for a storm total of 30 inches (76 cm) of snow with a precipitation total of 4.11″ (10.4 cm) melted. The total snowfall occurred in just over 24 hours – 29 inches of that fell in 24 hours and holds the record for snowfall in any 24hr period. The April Fool’s, 1997 snowfall ranks as the 5th greatest snowfall in the Observatory’s 132 year climate record. (Per BHO Chief Scientist, Mike Iacono and BHO Chief Observer, Cecilia Borries-Strigle)


The Blue Hill Observatory was built atop a hill a little south of Boston in 1885. It was the first weather observatory built in the United States and has an unbroken weather record.

Some of their early “high tech” equipment is still in use although “antique” is sometimes the better description now. If you’re in the area, check their schedule and stop in for a visit. Whether there or not, check out their store, especially their books, or donate some money to help make up for cuts in state support.


table.apr
No, this has nothing to do with 1997 or 2017, it’s from my deck after a snow storm on 2007 April 5 – this year is its 10th anniversary. It’s not just years that end in 7. In 2003, I had a very similar 12.4″ of snow in April.

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35 thoughts on “The 20th Anniversary of Massachusett’s April Fool’s Day Nor’easter

  1. You should show pictures to your children and grandchildren and make sure they take advantage of such snowfalls to get out and play. After all, as we in the UK know only too well, by 2000, err, I mean 2010, err, I mean 2020, snow in these parts will be a thing of the past due to CATASTROPHIC global warming.

    • Look at the trend – 30″ in 1997, a mere 12.3″ in 2017. We’re on the road to ruination!

      OTOH, here at home the biggest April snowfalls I’ve recorded at http://wermenh.com/sdd/ were 12.4″ in 2003 and 12.3″ in 2007. This year, including March 31, I’m at 12.4″ again.

    • Ian
      You omitted the “Anthropogenic”!
      And, I guess – am wrong? – the /Snark . . . .
      Mods
      This is also, ever so slightly /Snark

      Auto

  2. This is still nothing, to the 19/20. April 2017 Nor’easter in parts of Germany and Austria. In Austria from Monday to today even in deeper locations up to 1/2 meter of snow fell. There were partly wind blasts up to 80 km / h. The ring motorway around Vienna was closed and an emergency camp was erected there overnight. In the second half of April there has been no such heavy snowfall since people remember it. More snow came together at higher altitudes. On the Zugspitze in Garmisch Partenkirchen in Germany (about 3000 m altitude), the snow level rose since Easter Sunday from 3 meters to 5 meters. And this situation for the higher mountains will not change so quickly. Furthermore, there are polar cold air masses coming to Mitteleuropa. http://www.wetteronline.de/wetterticker? PostId = post_201704202883433
    http://www.wetteronline.de/

  3. I think the April Fools Storm was the one that was a complete nightmare for forecasters in southern New Hampshire, because for a long time temperatures were right at freezing, or just above, so there was the chance the snow would change to rain. In fact it “should” have changed to rain, but apparently the precipitation was just heavy enough to drag down cold air from aloft, and kept the change from occurring.

    The difference was maybe only half a degree between being snow and being rain, and for a long time the fellows who had to decide were fairly sure it was going to change to rain any minute. So the forecast went through a long series of updates: “2 inches of snow, changing to rain”; “4-6 inches of snow, changing to rain”; “6-10 inches of snow; changing to rain”; “8-12 inches of snow, changing to rain”; “12-18 inches of snow, changing to rain”; “18-24 inches of snow, ending as rain.”

    All the New Englanders had a good laugh at meteorologist’s expense, and I can recall thinking to myself it must be murder to be a meteorologist when there is such a huge difference between freezing and a tenth of a degree above.

    As I recall (if I am remembering the right spring snow) it never did turn to rain.

    • Don’t worry about meteorologists. They are wrong all the time except when they stick their heads out of the window to see what is actually happening in real time. In my next life I want to come back as a meteorologist. Mistakes are forgiven or explained away, what a job!

      • I work outside, and from time to time try to live without weather reports, just to see how well I can do. You’d be surprised how good meteorologists are in the short-term, and how many inconveniences they save us from. Of course they get laughed at a lot, but when a storm is coming they often give warnings when, using my own eyes, I see no signs. I actually think they are under-appreciated. But I agree: What a job!

    • I think what happens in some cases like this not so much cold air from aloft, but low level air getting chilled by melting snow. Even if there is some warm air coming in from the Atlantic (where “warm” means you’d quickly die of hypothermia if you fell in), some snow melts, other snow survives, downwind areas see all snow, and as long as it’s stays heavy enough, the forecast is in trouble.

      That was at play in this month’s storm – we had rain at the start and as it got heavier shifted over to snow. The lowest temperature during the storm was a little over 30°F.

      Also, I think this storm was pretty well forecast. New England forecasters tend to be the best – they have more opportunities to blow their forecasts! The good ones stay here, the bad ones move to southern California.

      • Hey, looky at what I found tonight in Kocin and Uccellini (Vol II, , pg 804):

        Another aspect of the early and late season snowfalls is an apparent role of melting snow to cool the atmosphere in the early stages of the storm and the subsequent changeover from rain to snow (Kain et al. 2000; Gedzelman and Lewis 1990). This factor appears to be important in the cases of … in which temperatures at 850 hPa were generally near or above 0°C at the onset of precipitation, beginning as rain, and then fell to near 0°C as the precipitation became heavier, and subsequently changed over to all snow. Several cases noted in this section are characterized by the changeover to snow as the precipitation intensity increased, with localized heavy snows generally found in higher elevations and inland locations.

  4. Edward Markey. Worst of the worst politicians plunging his green hand into our pockets. Senator Ed was a major force behind energy efficiency schemes for public education hatched by Boston based faux tech companies. Those companies and their principles donated large sums to Eddies campaigns.

    Edward is also a nasty piece of work who would like the Justice Department to prosecute people like me who disagree with his views.A disgrace to the Bay State.

  5. The big deal is how much snow you’re equipped to deal with. A similar snowfall in Toronto (Canada) resulted in calling out the army. link It’s been the subject of mockery ever since.

    One of my prairie buddies went to school on the west coast. He said that the whole city would shut down if as much as an inch of snow remained on the ground. The biggest problem was that nobody had a clue of how to drive on snow and ice.

    Apparently it sometimes snows in Florida. link I remember newspaper pictures of people looking really miserable in their light jackets.

    YMMV

    • In the town of Rayne, Louisiana, one day 24″ of snow fell, a record for the state.

      Back in the 1970s, my wife and I were working on graduate degrees at LSU in Baton Rouge, and I was organist at a little Methodist church in north Baton Rouge, pastored by a wonderful man named Ted who wore cowboy boots to church and had at one time been a long-distance trucker and had followed various other roughneck pursuits. One day, in the middle of Ted’s sermon, he noticed that it had started to snow–big, hefty flakes, and lots of them, a truly rare sight in south Louisiana. Ted interrupted his sermon and said, “Let’s all go outside and watch it snow for a few minutes–this is one gift God sends us rarely.” And so we did. The snow–which did begin to stick–lasted for ten minutes and then stopped. Ted waved us all back inside, and he took up his sermon right where he had left off. Truly a memorable occasion for many of the congregants who had never seen snow, let alone been out in it! It had melted by the time I drove home.

  6. Don’t mean to rain on your parade… but the great April Fools Day flood of 1967 deserves mention. The place Aden, South Yemen, average annual rainfall 1/3 ins. enjoyed 3 inches of rain on the morning of April 1st. 1967. A UN peace keeping delegation was due to arrive that day and the several ‘Dissident’ elements (Terrorism had not yet been invented, though random shootings and bombings were commonplace) had vowed to wreke havok on the day. And then the rain came. The water swept down the mountainside taking the cemetary with it and distributing the occupants along the main street in Ma’alla. The few black top roads were rolled up and discarded by the flash floods like carpet remnants from ‘This Old House’.
    It was deemed to be an act of God, or Allah depending on your divine preferrence, Climate Change having not yet been invented. But there was no snow …that would indeed have been a miracle!
    Pardon the digression..an otherwisegreat post.
    Mike

    • No, it’s a fine addition. One of the main reasons I’ve been writing up historical accounts of extreme weather is that most people’s memory of past weather events, with a few traumatic exceptions, really sucks. then people go off and wring their hands over all the extreme weather going on these without remembering the extreme weather they already lived through, or or weren’t around to experience in the previous PDO or AMO cycle.

    • Blank image., mostly because there is a

      ?zoom=2
      at the back of the URL

      Something weird in the javascript today.

  7. Still, it must be great to know that, overall, the winter power bills will be much less due to global warming!

  8. It would be interesting to compare media coverage. Was the 1997 storm attributed to AGW? Was it partially attributed, i.e., AGW “intensified” the storm? Or was it just treated for what it was: weather?

  9. Ric, Joe Bastardi says they are making a big deal out of this low pressure system forming way E of the Azores over water that’s 19C and wanting to name it as a tropical storm. The rules of meteorology can apparently be ignored by the weatherman warmists.

    • Yeah, I heard his rant yesterday. I’m sort of more for the storm, though he’s looked at it a lot more closely than I have. There are other cases where sea surface temperatures can be “too cold” to support a tropical system but cold air overhead winds up supporting enough convection for a minimal system.

      Really strong winter nor’easters can develop an “eye-like” structure briefly. I imagine it takes more energy to maintain than is available in near freezing conditions, but they sure look like tropical cyclone eyes on radar and satellite photos.

      In the grand scheme of things, the NHC declaring a tropical storm (named Arlene at 2100 UTC), won’t have much impact on the total ACE score for the season, but it’ll annoy Joe until a storm forms closer to the US coast where they “should” this year.

      • Thanks, I like getting varied perspectives on everything. It will be interesting to see whether this reflects a change in the definition of a tropical cyclone like he is suggesting, and if this early occurrence is used to hype the propaganda.

  10. I was living in Danbury, CT at the time and remember the storm well, but mostly because the snow was falling as my beloved Kentucky Wildcats were being dethroned by the Arizona variety.

  11. I was there. Lots of fun riding my bike down Massachusetts Ave in Cambridge with the snow plows that day.

  12. no accumulation due to wet ground but its been snowing every day this week in central maine.
    last night was coming down pretty hard, cars were all covered.

  13. I don’t recall the year, I think it was during the late 1950s in the last three days of March in the Texas Panhandle snow was blowing level out of the north. Thousands of cattle died, as snow filled their nostrils, and they could not breath. Another time, in the late 1960s, in early April, a similar storm lasted five days–in flat fields very little snow was left, but in the draws snow covered the telephone and high lines poles. Cattle also died, but I don’t recall how many. Check the Amarillo Daily Newspaper for additional data.

  14. Why does everyone use the term “Nor’easter” to refer to any severe storm in the Northeast? The spelling and pronunciation suggests a New England accent. When I was growing up, the expression was limited to a storm in which the winds had circled around and were coming in from the Northeast (as opposed to most other weather events that came from the west). These storms lodged themselves over the ocean to the east of Massachusetts/Maine and pounded the coast (and inland) with high winds and damaging surf. Think about it. Why would someone from the Northeast, someone with an accent that would say “Nor’east,” refer to a severe storm with a regional description? And certainly, no one outside the Northeast would say “Nor’east.”

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