On our odyssey through New York's top 100 weather stories (1970 through 2014), here we are at the top 25. This is where the great debates are most likely to occur. Although choosing the top story was easy, positioning the rest was a challenge, with constant re-evaluation, adjustments and gnashing of teeth. As a reminder, when determining rankings emphasis was placed on the disruptions caused and duration of the effects (e.g., lack of electricity).
(Editor's note: Since writing this post in the summer of 2014. a number of weather events have occurred, e.g., NYC's biggest snowfall of all-time in January 2016, and the 14-day cold wave of Dec. 2017/Jan. 2018, that will appear on this list when it's eventually updated.)
25. Three Tropical Storms in September 2004
Three downgraded hurricanes produced more than ten inches of rain in a three-week period between Sept. 8-28: Frances (3.76” on 9/8); Ivan (2.18” on 9/18) and Jeanne (4.66” on 9/28-29). This rainfall helped make this the wettest September since 1934. The rapid succession of these storms fueled a media frenzy about how this was the new norm.
24. Bitterly Cold January 1977
January 1977 was the second coldest on record. An especially brutal day was Jan. 17, with a high/low of 12°/-2°. 35 of the 43 days between Dec. 27 and Feb. 9 had highs of 32° or colder. And the ten-day period between Jan. 7-16 saw snow fall on seven of the days, with 11" of accumulation.
23. The Sizzling Summer of 1993
1993 and 1991 both had 39 days in the 90s (or hotter), which is the most on record (thru 2020). However, 1993's were more concentrated (occurring in a 130-day period vs. 163 in 1991), and the 90-degree days were hotter, averaging 93.5° v 92.7° in 1991. July 1993 had twenty 90+ days, including three in a row with triple-digit readings (July 8-10). It joined 1948 as the only other year to have three consecutive days in the 100s.
22. Summer of 2002's Back-to-Back Heat Waves
In a 3-week period between July 29 and Aug. 19, there were two extended heat waves of eight days and nine days. The average high during each was 95°. Some summers don't see one heat wave of five days, so this was rather extraordinary.
21. February 2010 Becomes Snowiest Month on Record
36.9" of snow fell in February 2010, the most of any month. And this was without the benefit of the blizzard of Feb. 4 that dumped two to three feet of snow on DC, Baltimore, Philly, and south Jersey, but stopped at our doorstep (Staten Island had a few inches). There were four snowfalls of an inch or more: 1.0" on Feb. 2-3; 10.0" on Feb. 10; 5.0" on Feb 16; and the granddaddy of them all, 20.9" on Feb 25-26. (In contrast, December, January and March of 2010-11 contributed 14.5" of snow.)
20. Hurricane Gloria (September 1985)
Gloria was the first hurricane to take aim at the region since hurricane Belle in August 1976. It made landfall on Long Island at the Nassau/Suffolk Co. line the morning of Sept. 27, which was a Friday. The City picked up a little more than three inches of rain, mostly between 8-11 AM. Because of its timing schools and most businesses were closed. Skies cleared shortly after 1 PM and the afternoon was beautiful. (Some mistook the sunshine as the eye of the storm not realizing we were well west of the storm's center.) Suffolk Co. bore the brunt and many towns went a week or more without power. Meanwhile, out on Fire Island, Calvin Klein lost the roof of his beach house.
19. NYC's Biggest Snowfall of All Time Comes in Midst of Mild Winter
The winter of 2006 had been a mild one, so the record setting snow of 26.9" that fell on Feb. 11-12 was especially shocking. (The previous record was 26.4" on Dec. 26-27, 1948.) It accounted for two-thirds of the winter's total snowfall. Unlike some of our other big snowstorms, New York was in the bulls-eye for this one. Interestingly, I didn't think this snow was any deeper than the blizzards of Jan. 1996 or President's Day 2003, which dumped about 20 inches. It could have been that those storms dropped more snow in my neighborhood than what Central Park received. This storm's ranking was hurt somewhat by the fact that it occurred on a Saturday/Sunday. (16 months after writing this post, the blizzard of Jan. 23, 2016 piled up 27.5" of snow to become the City's biggest snowstorm.)
18. Ice Storm of December 16-17, 1973
What made this storm even more treacherous was the fact that the temperature never went higher than 31° - nor the three days that followed. Ice was more than an inch thick and was devastating to trees and shrubs. This may have been the ice storm that inspired the 1997 indie film The Ice Storm (starring Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, and Joan Allen). Football fans across the country got a chance to witness the storm as the Jets game at Shea Stadium was televised.
17. July 1999 is Hottest Month on Record/June & July Suffer Thru Record Dry Spell
The month had eighteen days in the 90s, eleven which were 95° or hotter and three days at 101°. The month ended with an 11-day heat wave from July 23 thru Aug. 2, second longest on record. Ironically, the last 90-degree temperature of the year was on Aug. 5, one of the earliest dates for this occurrence. The summer’s twenty-seven days of 90+ (50% above average) were concentrated in a two-month period (June 2 thru Aug. 5).
Besides the searing heat, June and July were the driest consecutive months on record with just a combined 1.03" of rain falling (the normal amount is around eight inches). And for 35 days between May 25 and June 21 no measurable rain fell. These dry conditions actually lasted for ten weeks, beginning May 25 and continuing thru Aug 4. The previous driest two months was in the winter of 1981 when 1.16" fell in Dec. 1980 and Jan. 1981 (#55 on the top-100 list).
16. Summer of 2010 Is Hottest Ever
Each month was well above average: June 3.5 degrees above average; July +4.9 degrees; and August +2.4. In the 4-week period between July 15 and Aug. 11 every day but one had a high of 85° or warmer. There were 37 days in the 90s/100s in 2010, the third most after 1991 and 1993 (the 12th and 4th hottest summers, respectively). 31 of these days came after July 1. And sixteen were between July 4-27, including back-to-back days in the triple digits (July 6& 7). This summer was preceded by the mildest spring (and NYC's earliest 90 degree day, on April 7), and was followed by a warm September. Previously, 1966 had been the hottest summer.
15. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow! (Winter of 2014)
In a 30-day period between Jan. 21 and Feb. 19, 42.1" of snow fell, a record amount for 30 days. There were snowfalls of 11.5" on Jan. 21-22; 8.0" on Feb. 3; 4.0" on Feb. 5; and 12.5" on Feb. 13-14. It was also very cold with temperatures nearly seven degrees below average. This period accounted for nearly 3/4 of the winter's 57 inches of snow. After this 30-day period, the snow-making machine was shut off for the rest of the season (March, the coldest in thirty years, had just 0.1").
14. August 2011 is Rainiest Month Ever
May and June 1989 and 2013 are on this list, and deservedly so, for having a combined 19 inches of rain - which is what August 2011 had in one month. And over a six-week period it saw 25.40". Seven inches came from hurricane Irene.
13. The Monsoon-Like Rains of October 2005
In a two-and-a-half-week period (Oct. 8-25) 17 inches of rain fell (a period when 2.50" would be typical). Seven days picked up an inch or more, including three days in a row. Ironically, this followed one of the driest Septembers on record.
12. The Harsh Winter of 1994
The City was still catching its breath after the March 1993 Superstorm when the winter of 1993-94 came calling. Between Jan. 3 and March 10, sleet or freezing rain lashed the area on 19 occasions, with the ice storm of Jan. 7-8 particularly severe (the worst since the ice storm of Dec. 1973). In addition to this frozen precipitation, there was plenty of snow, with 53.2" measured in Central Park, the most since the winter of 1960. The worst of it came during the first week of February, when 21.8 inches fell from two storms (#63 on the top-100 list).
In addition to the abundance of snow and ice, there were cold temperatures to contend with. Temperatures in the seven weeks between Dec. 26 and Feb. 11 were 6.7 degrees below average (and nineteen of the days were 10 degrees colder than average). The morning of Jan. 19 was the most frigid of all, with a low of -2°.
11. USAir Flight 405 Crashes During Snowy Evening
3.2" of snow fell on the evening of March 22, 1992 when USAir Flight 405 crashed. Bound for Cleveland, the plane was about to take off from La Guardia Airport but was unable to gain altitude because it hadn't been de-iced properly; it went into Flushing Bay, and 27 of the 51 passengers and crew on board died. (Circumstances were similar to the crash of Air Florida Flight 90, which plunged into the Potomac River during a snowstorm in Jan. 1982).
And now, ladies and gentlemen, here are New York's top-10 weather stories ...
10. March Superstorm
Also referred to as the "Storm of the Century", this monster of a storm moved into the area on Saturday, March 13, 1993. Winds gusted over 60 mph, making sleet that mixed with the snow in the afternoon really sting (I know from personal experience). This wind-blown sleet produced a crashing sound on my apartment windows that was maddening - and it lasted all afternoon. A changeover to sleet and rain kept snow totals in the City down by about six inches. When the sub-freezing cold returned after midnight the mounds of snow coated with sleet and saturated with rain made it difficult to shovel/plow. This storm would have found itself even higher in the top-10 if not for the changeover to sleet/rain and the fact that it struck on a Saturday.
9. Two Fierce Nor'easters in March 2010
On average New York sees two or three nor'easters every year, but two strong ones in a single month is rare. On the 17th anniversary of the 1983 March Superstorm (March 13), a fierce nor'easter dumped close to four inches of rain and was accompanied by winds that gusted to 50-75 mph. The rainfall was the most ever measured in a 24-hour period in March. Six persons were killed in the metro area by falling trees, and hundreds of thousands of homes were left without power. Then less than three weeks later (March 29-30) a second nasty nor'easter struck with another 4-inch rainfall flooding the area. This one-two punch followed NYC's record-setting 36.9" of snow in February.
8. Blizzard of January 1996
Snow began falling late Sunday morning (Jan. 7) and continued thru early afternoon on Monday. 20.2" piled up in Central Park, with totals 8-12 inches greater in many parts of New Jersey. Besides the snow and wind, temperatures were very cold, mostly in the upper teens (and a wind chill around zero). At its most intense, the blizzard dumped five inches between 5-7 PM. Once the snow had ended, vehicles parked on city streets were hemmed in by walls of snow three and four feet high from drifting and plowing. It was tough getting around for the rest of the week, and high temperatures didn't get above freezing until Friday (when a few more inches of snow fell). At the time this was the City's third biggest snowfall (it's now fifth).
7. Winter of 1996 is Snowiest on Record
With a 4.6" snowfall on March 2, the winter of 1996 became New York's snowiest on record (passing 1947-48, which had 63.2"). And ten inches more would fall in the next five weeks. The final snowfall, on April 10, brought the season’s total to 75.6”. There were seven snowfalls of 4” or more, with four being 6”+. Even without the January blizzard, 55.4" of snow fell.
6. Pre-Halloween Snowstorm of 2011
This storm produced New York's largest October snowfall on record, 2.9" of heavy/wet snow that didn't accumulate much on streets but weighed down trees that still had their leaves. Conditions in the suburbs were even worse because of greater accumulations, causing widespread tree damage; fallen branches pulled down power lines, leaving communities without electricity for days. This storm has been somewhat forgotten because one year later Sandy struck on practically the same date.
5. June 1975 Thunderstorm Responsible for Disastrous Plane Crash
On the afternoon of June 24, 1975, Eastern Airlines Flight 66 was approaching JFK Airport during a thunderstorm when a tremendous wind shear hit it, causing it to crash. 124 passengers and crew were killed (12 survived). This crash is ranked higher than the USAir crash because it wasn't caused by human error, and its death toll was much higher.
4. Christmas Blizzard of 2010
The storm actually began the afternoon of Dec. 26. It was so debilitating because, besides the fact that 20" of wind-driven snow fell, it was somewhat of a last-minute storm, which caught the City largely unprepared vis-a-vis snow removal. Many residential streets were impassable for days and the airports had days of cancelled flights during a time of heavy holiday traffic. (My flight from Pittsburgh to JFK, which was scheduled two days after the blizzard, was cancelled and Jet Blue arranged chartered buses to bring us back to New York.)
3. Snowfall on Steroids
Between Dec. 26, 2010 and Feb. 2, 2011, a mere 39 days, New York received an incredible 57.6" of snow - more than double a typical winter's snowfall. Although the bulk came from two blizzards, 20" on Dec. 26-27, 2010, and 19" on Jan. 26-27, 2011, an additional 17" fell from six other snow events, including snowfalls of four and nine inches. And while this amount was 19 inches less than the record-breaking total of the winter of 1996, that amount fell over the course of 134 days.
2. Hurricane Irene
Never before had the City shut down its entire transportation system until Irene approached at the end of August 2011. Although the storm didn't strengthen as much as expected, and its center moved further east, sparing NYC higher winds and severe storm surge, close to seven inches of rain fell. Still, there was sporadic flooding, destruction from waves and extensive tree damage. One factor that made it a bit less of a problem was that it occurred on a weekend.
1. Superstorm Sandy
There was no doubt that this would be the top story. Sandy was New York's most destructive storm in its history, with close to $20 billion in damage (Irene's damage was less than $500 million). It was also deadly (44 deaths), and plunged the lower portion of Manhattan into darkness for five days (even longer in many suburbs). Like Irene, the City's transportation system was shut down beforehand. Schools were closed all week and the NY Stock Exchange was closed for two days.
Unlike Irene, Sandy struck during a weekday (Monday), and it was as powerful as predicted (and it struck close to high tide during a full moon). Interestingly, of all the tropical systems that have affected New York since 1970, Sandy produced the least rainfall - less than an inch. It was the wind and unprecedented storm surge (nearly fourteen feet on the East River) that proved so catastrophic.
Because there was no power in lower Manhattan, the famed Greenwich Village Halloween parade was cancelled - as was the NYC Marathon on Nov. 4 (after plans to hold it were met with a backlash). And the timing of the storm couldn't have been worse for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Pundits say it mortally wounded his campaign after President Obama received extensive news coverage while touring the storm stricken Jersey shore with New Jersey's Republican governor Chris Christie. (The election was held eight days after Sandy struck.)
If you missed them, here are links to the other installments of NYC's Top-100 Weather Stories (1970-2014):