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The East Coast May Be About To Get One Of The Worst Blizzards It’s Ever Seen

A historic blizzard is on track to hit southern New England and the northern mid-Atlantic — including Boston, New York City and possibly Philadelphia — early this week. A storm system will develop off the East Coast during the day Monday and throw back moisture into cold air Monday evening and into Tuesday. Snow may fall at a rate of 2 inches to 4 inches per hour in some spots.

But just how historic will the storm be? It could easily make the all-time top 10 in terms of snowfall in all three cities, and it may claim the No. 1 spot in Boston and New York.

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New York City is under a blizzard warning for 20 to 30 inches of snow. The biggest snowstorm to ever hit New York dropped 26.9 inches of snow on Feb. 12 and 13, 2006, according to data going back to 1869. The snowy wallop was caused by mesoscale bands that pivoted over the city in the overnight hours.

Here are New York’s top 10 snowstorms:

  1. Feb. 11-12, 2006 — 26.9 inches
  2. Dec. 26-27, 1947 — 26.4 inches
  3. March 12-14, 1888 — 21.0 inches
  4. Feb. 25-26, 2010 — 20.9 inches
  5. Jan. 7-8, 1996 — 20.2 inches
  6. Dec. 26-27, 2010 — 20.0 inches
  7. Feb. 16-17, 2003 — 19.8 inches
  8. Jan. 26-27, 2011 — 19.0 inches
  9. March 7-8, 1941 — 18.1 inches
  10. Dec. 26, 1872 — 18.0 inches

New York’s top 10 includes the “Blizzard of 1888” (No. 3), the “Blizzard of 1996” (No. 5) and, most recently, the “Snowicane” of 2010 (No. 4). The Blizzard of 1888 was responsible for many deaths and was one impetus for the construction of the city’s underground subway system, while the historic Blizzard of 1996 dumped snow from Washington, D.C., to southern New England. Both featured heavy winds.

If the National Weather Service is dead-on accurate (not a sure thing), the coming blizzard will make it into New York’s top six at a minimum. As long as a foot and a half of snow falls, this storm will be tied for the 10th spot with an 1872 storm none of us was alive to see.

Boston is also under a blizzard warning for 20 to 30 inches of snow. According to data dating back to 1935, Boston’s top snowfall, 27.5 inches, occurred during the “President’s Day Storm II” in 2003. It’s quite possible this storm will top it.

  1. Feb. 17-18, 2003 — 27.5 inches
  2. Feb. 6-7, 1978 — 27.1 inches
  3. Feb. 24-27, 1969 — 26.3 inches
  4. March 31-April 1, 1997 — 25.4 inches
  5. Feb. 8-9, 2013 — 24.9 inches
  6. Jan. 22-23, 2005 — 22.5 inches
  7. Jan. 20-21, 1978 — 21.4 inches
  8. March 3-5, 1960 — 19.8 inches
  9. Feb. 16-17, 1958 — 19.4 inches
  10. Feb. 8-10, 1994 — 18.7 inches

Other top storms on Boston’s list include the infamous “April Fool’s Day Blizzard” in 1997 (No. 4), the “Blizzard of 1978” (No. 2) and the February “Blizzard of 2013” (No. 5). Some weather buffs believe these storms were far more severe than the President’s Day Storm II in 2003 because of wind and the wetness of the snow. To match any of these storms, Tuesday’s blizzard must drop more than 24 inches in Boston.

Far more accessible is Boston’s No. 10 spot: Feb. 8-10, 1994. That storm isn’t remembered for its severity because it fell over three days and didn’t feature the strong winds that this one almost certainly will.

Down in Philadelphia, a winter storm warning is in effect for 14 to 24 inches. There’s no blizzard warning in Philly because winds aren’t expected to be as strong there. It also looks unlikely that Philadelphia will be able to break its all-time record of 31 inches, set in the Blizzard of 1996. Nor does it look like this storm will match the 28.5 inches of snow that fell on Feb. 5-6, 2010.

  1. Jan. 6-8, 1996 — 31 inches
  2. Feb. 5-6, 2010 — 28.5 inches
  3. Dec. 19-20, 2009 — 23.2 inches
  4. Feb. 11-12, 1983 — 21.3 inches
  5. Dec. 25-26, 1909 — 21 inches
  6. April 3-4, 1915 — 19.4 inches
  7. Feb. 12-14, 1899 — 18.9 inches
  8. Feb. 16-17, 2003 — 18.7 inches
  9. Jan. 22-24, 1935 — 16.7 inches
  10. Feb. 28-March 1, 1941 and Jan. 26-27, 2011 — 15.1 inches

Still, this storm could easily break into the top 10 in Philly. To tie the 10th-greatest storm (which itself is a tie between a storm in 1941 and one in 2011), only 15.1 inches need to fall.

The expected blizzard is still more than 24 hours away, though. Predicting snowfall is tough, and this storm system is complex. The forecasts may change. And measuring snow in windy conditions is difficult and imprecise.

Overall, though, this storm looks to be a historic one. Keep safe.

Harry Enten is a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

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