February 1998 - The Forgotten Snowstorm
Everyone remembers where they were during the Winter Storm of '94 and most people remember what they were doing during the Holiday Storm of '04, but few people remember the biggest snow maker of them all for Louisville.
On the evening of Tuesday February 3rd, snow started falling on Kentuckiana as a large, slow moving storm system was developing far to the south along the Gulf Coast.
The snow became heavy Tuesday night and would continue for three more days!
By Thursday the 5th, the low pressure system had reached the Carolina Coast and continued to dump heavy snow in our area.
The snow didn't come to an end until late on that Friday, the 6th!
Normally, when we get good snows in this part of the Ohio Valley, it's a combination of cold air moving in from the north and moisture being pulled up from the south typically out of the Gulf.
However, one of the things that made this storm so unique was that the main source of moisture was the Atlantic Ocean!
Because of the placement and size of the mid-level low pressure system, located at about 4 or 5,000 feet above the surface, a strong, persistent easterly fetch developed bringing us a continuous feed of Atlantic moisture. This combined with a sufficiently cold air mass to produce a long duration heavy snowfall event.
When all was said and done, areas along the Ohio River and to the south across the Bluegrass of Kentucky were looking at some astonishing snow totals on the order of one to two feet!!
In Louisville, an incredible 22.4" of snow fell during the three day period! To this day, this stands as the heaviest snowfall on record for the key city exceeding the '94 storm total by more than six inches!
So why is it that many people have a hard time remembering this event?
For one, there was never 22" of snow on the ground. Temperatures for much of the storm were near or even slightly above freezing, which lead to lots of melting and compacting of the snow as it fell.
Also, I believe that since the snow fell over a three day period of time, it didn't have quite the same impact as the '94 storm did or the '04 storm did in the metro area where all the accumulating snow and ice fell within a 24 hour period. (The '94 storm was more like a 12 hour event)
Regardless, the '98 snowstorm was a very rare event and one that none of us living here will likely experience again.
While I was going to meteorology school at Purdue at the time, I unfortunately, did not get to witness the event first hand. However, fortunately, some of my fb friends were kind enough to share their photos with us...
For those interested in a more detailed look at the weather set up for the event, be sure to check out the below synoptic charts courtesy the Louisville National Weather Service. It was a bizarre storm to say the least!
Meteorologist Jeremy Kappell
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org