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How Extreme Was the Winter of 2009-2010?

By Story by's Jon Auciello
March 19, 2010, 10:36:01 AM EDT

The winter of 2009-2010 was defined by snowstorms of historic proportions and record-breaking cold.

Millions of Americans from coast to coast faced unusual cold, damaging flooding and mudslides, or blizzards of mammoth scale from December 2009 through February 2010. These conditions required massive cleanup and repair efforts, cost millions of dollars and disrupted daily life at a seemingly routine pace for many people this winter.


Image courtesy of NOAA.

"Everything was extreme. There was no run-of-the-mill storm this year," said Expert Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno.

When looking at the nation as a whole, heavy amounts of snow, rain and ice made for above-average precipitation this winter. In addition, frigid air led to temperatures far-below normal throughout a large portion of the nation.

"It was cold just about everywhere," said Senior Meteorologist Frank Strait. "The worst was east of the Mississippi River, where the cold was most sustained."

Because of this combination of cold and moisture, snow covered a portion of every one of the 48 continental United States, including the Florida Panhandle. On Feb. 13, 68 percent of the nation was covered by snow.

"This may have been the first time some people [in the South] had ever seen snow," Rayno said.

The cold extended so far south this winter that parts of central and South Florida reported wet snow and sleet, even Miami.

"That's only been reported once before in Miami, in 1977," said Strait.

As for the Midwest, mid-Atlantic and Northeast, this winter was highlighted by repeated snowstorms.

December began with a Midwestern blizzard from the 7th to the 10th, effectively shutting down the entire state of Iowa. A second storm dumped snow from Kentucky and North Carolina on through the mid-Atlantic all the way to Boston Dec. 18-20 with some spots accumulating over two feet. And there was yet another snowstorm that spanned the Midwest from Texas to North Dakota over the Christmas holiday from Dec. 24-26.

December snowfall records were set in numerous American cities, including Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

However, the most notable storms arrived in February.

"The number and magnitude of the storms that affected the mid-Atlantic this year was impressive," Senior Meteorologist Marshall Moss said.

Two blizzards struck the mid-Atlantic within a week of each other to start the month on Feb. 5-6 and 9-11 respectively. When looked at together, they were rated a Category Five storm on the Northeast Snow impacts Scale (NESIS), the highest possible rating. "Snowmageddon," as it became to be known, was only the third such classified storm in NESIS history.

It was followed on Feb. 24-26 in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast by Snowicanetm, a major snowstorm that exhibited some of the qualities of a hurricane.

Major cities such as Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia all set seasonal snowfall records this winter, according to the National Climate Data Center.

Baltimore's old record of 62.5 inches from the winter of 1995-96 was crushed after 80.4 inches fell this season.

"Over 80 inches in Baltimore -- that's amazing," said Moss.

The record maintained at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., had stood since the winter of 1898-1899 until this winter.

"If you take this winter as a whole, this was bad," Rayno said. "These storms produced snow that shut down cities. It's bad to have just one in Philadelphia. They had three this time."

The West Coast also received their share of severe weather over the past few months.

A series of strong storms inundated California with heavy rain and high winds from Jan. 16-23, causing flooding and wind damage. This included an extra tropical cyclone on the West Coast Jan. 21-22. Mudslides destroyed homes on Feb. 5 in Southern California after yet more heavy rain suddenly arrived in the area.

For many Americans, December, January and February were harsh months and won't be forgotten any time soon.

"This was the worst winter some people will see in their lifetime," said Rayno.

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