The meteorological dilettantes among us will periodically prod snowbanks with yardsticks as the Blizzard of 2013 deposits its snow on eastern Massachusetts and beyond this weekend. But when it comes to storm records for Boston, all eyes will be on Logan Airport's snow gauge – the ultimate arbiter.
The Blizzard of 2013, which the Weather Channel as dubbed a somewhat unintimidating winter storm Nemo, is expected to dump at least 24 inches of snow on Boston. Anything over 22.8 inches will guarantee the storm makes the list of the five snowiest storms since 1892, according to records kept at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Taunton, Mass., which covers southern New England.
For Many Bostonians, the frame of reference for winter storms for now remains the Blizzard of 1978, which struck 35 years ago this week. It dumped 27.1 inches of snow on a city already coping with the leftovers from a storm three weeks earlier. That earlier storm brought 21 inches of snow.
The '78 storm remains the snowiest on record for Providence, R.I., although it ranks No. 10 for Worcester, Mass.. In Hartford, Conn., the '78 storm is tied for eighth place with a storm that hit in December 1947 and dumped 16.9 inches of snow on the city.
For Boston, the record for snow in a single storm belongs to the Blizzard of 2003, which struck on Presidents Day that year. The storm affected a long swath of the East Coast from Washington, D.C., through Boston. It brought record snow to Baltimore as well, which groaned under 28.2 inches of snow.
That storm's genesis bears a striking resemblance to the blizzard heading into the Northeast today. A storm system that formed over the southern Rockies on Feb. 14, 2003, headed east. As it approached, it triggered the formation of a coastal storm off the Carolinas.
That storm began to move up the coast, following a typical path for nor'easters. Meanwhile, a large pool of cold air linked to a high pressure system over eastern Canada provided the chill needed to make sure the usual line between rain and snow fell much farther south than it typically does. With the coastal storm drawing plenty of moisture from the Atlantic Ocean, the stage was set for the deep snows that blanketed the region in the storm's aftermath.
Five snowiest storms on record for Boston (since 1892)
- Feb. 17-18, 2003 - 27.5 inches (Presidents Day storm)
- Feb. 6-7, 1978 - 27.1 inches
- Feb. 24-27, 1969 - 26.3 inches
- March 31-April 1, 1997 - 25.4 inches (April Fools' storm)
- Jan. 22-23, 2005 - 22.5 inches
Source: National Weather Service