Special Report - April Fools Day Blizzard 1997

AP Photo Fenway Park April 1, 1997
On Sunday, March 30, 1997, Southern New Englanders woke up feeling pretty good.  It was Easter Sunday and temperatures were forecast to be 6-12 degrees above average.  The winter was rather tame to date and it sure looked like Spring was here to stay.  Although the Red Sox had gone 79 years without a World Series title, they had a hot shot rookie SS with a quirky batting stance taking over who would inspire thousands of kids to be "Nomar" in their backyards.

Easter 97 sure seemed like a good day to practice the Nomar toe tap and take a few swings with the family.  The early to mid 90's have some of the most extreme seasonal snow totals in Boston and Worcester on record so we were going to celebrate a fairly normal winter.  

One explanation for the extreme snowfall totals in this time period is the global effect of the Mt. Pinatubo volcanic eruption in 1991.  The volcano spewed so much dust, ash, and debris into the equatorial atmosphere that global atmospheric circulation patterns were impacted.  There was so much remnant debris in the atmosphere that it slowed down weather patterns.  So once a pattern locked into place it stayed there.  We saw that in 2015 as well as 1993, 1994, and 1996.  I'm not saying Pinatubo had anything to do with this storm; my point is we had a earned the right to a nice normal spring.  But the weather is what it is and Mother Nature dropped one of the greatest snowstorms in our region's history on us in Spring.

Meteorological History
The weather chart on 3-30-1997 isn't all that ominous.  Even a trained meteorologist would have trouble believing big mischief was coming from a rather innocent looking surface chart.
NWS Daily Weather Map March 30, 1997,  8 AM (image WPC)
The general flow into New England was out of the Southwest.  Cold air lurked north of the boundary in Southern Canada, associated with high pressure.  One low that would eventually deepen South of New England is near the Minnesota/Manitoba border in this image.  The other was moving across the South.  By 8 AM the next day the two lows were combining to form one near the VA/MD coast.
NWS Daily Weather Map March 31, 1997, 8 AM (image WPC)
Cold air began to filter south from Canada on Monday, March 31, 1997.  Rain began to fall from Philadelphia to Maine.  The storm began to get stronger later Monday morning and into Monday afternoon.  As this happened, cold air was drawn from the north and rain began to change to snow.   Here is a still shot of a Channel 5 forecast showing the extreme temperature gradient present in the Eastern US.
WCVB April Fools Day Blizzard Coverage

The storm would stall offshore for a few hours while a band of heavy snow sat in Eastern Massachusetts.  The low would weaken and drift to the southeast later on Tuesday, April 1 but not before snow lingered into the early afternoon in Eastern MA.
7 PM March 31, 1997 to 7 AM April 1, 1997 radar loop (image UCAR)
One week later on April 7 max temperatures were in the 70's.

Impacts to Southern New England
The snowstorm dropped the largest snowfall in Worcester until it was surpassed by the January 2015 blizzard (33.0" vs 34.5").   In Boston, the storm is the greatest 24-hour snowfall and 4th largest snow total on record with 25.4".  The 22.4" that fell on April 1st makes April 1997 the snowiest on record for the capital of New England.
Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale Rating
The impact of the heavy wet snow on tree limbs led to hundreds of thousands of power outages.  At the height of the storm, nearly 700,000 people were without power.
WCVB photo of tree damage during 1997 blizzard
The snow fell at rates of 3"/hr late Monday night into Tuesday morning.  Public workers and snow removal contractors could not keep up with the relentless snow and many streets became impassable.  Schools closed for 2-3 days after the storm because most of the region was completely shut down on 4/1.   Despite temperatures in the upper 40's in the days after the storm, the heavy, wet nature of the snow made it very difficult to move.  Residents became upset with the slow response to the storm.
AP Photo of unplowed Boston street on Wednesday, April 2, 1997
The Red Sox were able to host the home opener 10 days later against the Seattle Mariners (a 5-3 loss).  Spring came, the flowers bloomed, and the April Fools Day Blizzard of 1997 became a memory.    I rate this as the second most important storm on my journey to becoming a meteorologist.  Hurricane Edouard in September 1996 made me a weather weenie and this blizzard cemented my fate.  It took until January 2015 before I saw snow this high from a single storm again.  As cool as this storm was, I'm sure many of you hope to never see one like it again.

ICYMI, frozen precipitation is in the forecast for Friday and Saturday.

Additional Sources
Kocin, Uccellini, Northeast Snowstorms Volume II: The Cases, Pgs 609-617

-Zack Green


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