The Great Arctic Outbreak and East Coast Blizzard of February 1899

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  • 1 Laboratory for Atmospheres, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
  • | 2 Blue Water Fishing Tackle Company, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
  • | 3 743 Charette Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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Abstract

An unprecedented period of extreme cold accompanied by an intense East Coast blizzard during February 1899 is documented through an examination of detailed surface weather charts constructed from original data. The surface weather analyses depict the passage of several anticyclones of Canadian or polar origin that propagated southward, spreading progressively colder temperatures throughout the central, eastern, and southern United States. This series of cold outbreaks culminated in the southward plunge of one final, massive anticyclone that yielded the coldest temperatures on record for much of the south-central and southeastern United States. The final cold wave was associated with the development of a cyclone that left measurable snow over most of the Gulf Coast and Florida and then produced severe blizzard conditions along much of the East Coast.

To place this period in historical perspective, minimum temperatures recorded during February 1899 are compared with minimum temperatures measured during more recent cold air outbreaks. Snowfall records set during February 1899 that have never been exceeded are also documented. Examples of extreme weather events such as this enable forecasters and students to gain practical experience by visualizing the meteorological patterns these events are associated with, by acquiring a historical perspective when assessing other events, and by gaining an appreciation of the limits of severity that atmospheric phenomena can attain.

Abstract

An unprecedented period of extreme cold accompanied by an intense East Coast blizzard during February 1899 is documented through an examination of detailed surface weather charts constructed from original data. The surface weather analyses depict the passage of several anticyclones of Canadian or polar origin that propagated southward, spreading progressively colder temperatures throughout the central, eastern, and southern United States. This series of cold outbreaks culminated in the southward plunge of one final, massive anticyclone that yielded the coldest temperatures on record for much of the south-central and southeastern United States. The final cold wave was associated with the development of a cyclone that left measurable snow over most of the Gulf Coast and Florida and then produced severe blizzard conditions along much of the East Coast.

To place this period in historical perspective, minimum temperatures recorded during February 1899 are compared with minimum temperatures measured during more recent cold air outbreaks. Snowfall records set during February 1899 that have never been exceeded are also documented. Examples of extreme weather events such as this enable forecasters and students to gain practical experience by visualizing the meteorological patterns these events are associated with, by acquiring a historical perspective when assessing other events, and by gaining an appreciation of the limits of severity that atmospheric phenomena can attain.

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