January 1996 was wild, January 1997 was mild

January 31, 1997


Staff Writer

For sheer drama, January 1997 cannot compete with January 1996 in the weather department, but this month did set records.

A three-day stretch early in the new year sent the mercury soaring to record levels. On Jan. 3, 4 and 5, the temperature hit 65, 73 and 70 degrees - each a record high for that date.

But this January was pale comparison to one of the wackiest months ever.

January 1996, in case anyone needs reminding, brought record snowfall (42.9 inches), a record snowstorm (35 inches beginning Jan. 7) and record precipitation, which is melted snow and rain (7.71 inches).

This January brought nary a menacing cloud. Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer recorded a total snowfall of 3.6 inches, well off last year's record and a good bit below the average January mark of 9.3 inches.


Keefer said most of this year's snowfall came from one storm, which dropped 3.5 inches on Jan. 9. But last January had just two storms. It's just that one of them - the 35-incher - broke records for largest storm, most snowfall in January and most snow in any month.

And then there was last January's flooding.

When the record snow started to melt, the city could not handle all that water. Heavy rain on Jan. 19 made matters worse.

Damaged water pumps shut off service to 75,000 customers and prompted a boil-water alert for the week.

"Hopefully, we won't have to go through anything like that again," Keefer said.

Waynesboro (Pa.) Area High School science teacher Todd. E. Toth, whose students have been collecting weather data for NASA for three years, said the change has been incredible.

"This was a very tame month compared to last year," he said. "This time last year, we had about 37 inches by now."

Toth said his students have only been able to measure accumulation one day.

"Right now, this is tying for one of the weakest," he said.

Despite the balmy weather at the start of the month, this January has not been remarkably warm - only 2 degrees above the average temperature, Keefer said.

And for all its snow, January 1996 was only a little more than 1 degree colder than the 29.5 degree average. This month has actually had more 10-degree or colder days than last January.

Another distinction of 1997 so far is wind. This month has featured twice as many days with wind gusts reaching 30 mph or better.

"We've had a lot of extremes this January," Keefer said. "It's up and down. But it's still better than last year - unless you like snow."

So does a mild January foretell anything about the future?

Keefer said folklore holds that a tame January can bring a late winter or a cold spring. But scientifically, he said there is no way to know.

And while January is usually the coldest and snowiest month, he said February is a close second.

"I wonder how this year is going to end up? With weather, you never know," he said. "Winter's not over by a long shot."

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