Montague, New York’s Near Record Of 77 Inches Of Snow In 24 Hours, January Of 1997
No matter how you
measure shovel it, 77 inches of snow in 24 hours, give or take an inch, is a lot of work, national record or not. While Northern New Yorkers are accustomed to heavy snow-fall amounts, the total fallen in the Tug Hill region of Montague within a 24 hour period would initially appear to break a national record held by Silver Lake, Colorado, of 76 inches in 1921, but further scrutiny over the following weeks would lead to the determination that no official record-breaking event occurred. Back-breaking, perhaps…
The event would start on January 11th and over the course of 48 hours drop more than 90 inches onto the little town of Montague, NY, which, during the winter, sees its population at least double from 60+ people to untold numbers of snowmobilers from across the State of New York. It was reported by the Watertown Daily Times that after the storm, 50 stranded snowmobilers were rescued–
Lowville – Lewis County Sheriff Gary L. Jock guesses that weekend work by the Barnes Corners Sno-Pals snowmobile club and his department freed about 50 people trapped in camps around Montague and Pickney by the heavy snowfall.
The snowmobilers were in camps, most without electricity or telephone service, and only the club’s two trail groomers could blaze trails in the snow. Sheriff’s deputies, club members and neighbors followed the groomers in snowmobiles to check for people in the camps and get them out.
In some cases, stranded snowmobilers were able to seek shelter among the gracious local residences, helping to return the favor to others still stranded:
In another incident, Wendy R. Perry and her husband, Fred, ended up housing eight stranded snowmobilers at their house off Factory Road in the town of Montague, Mrs. Perry said.
Six men from a group from Rochester were so grateful that they shoveled out her house and also followed the groomers to shovel out snowmobiles of people trapped in the camps.
Once the initial emergency efforts were over, the focus, particularly in the media, turned to the possibility of having set a national record with Montague’s 77 inches of snow in 24 hours. There appeared to be little doubt, the National Weather Service in Buffalo both validating and certifying the measurements taken by a local snow spotter, Bill Ottoshavett.
As reported by the Watertown Daily Times–
In southern Montague, Lewis County, 77 inches of snowfall was measured between 1:30p.m. Saturday and 1:30p.m Sunday, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo said. That beat the standing national record or measured snowfall in 24 hours of 76 inches in April 1921 at Silver Lake, Colo., said Stephen R. McLaughlin, a hydrologist with the weather service.
The previous state record for 24 hours was 54 inches, measured at Barnes Corners on Jan. 9, 1976, the weather service said.
It didn’t take long for news to get out, particularly nationally since the snowfall had been apparently confirmed as a new national record. The Lewis County Chamber of Commerce would decide to celebrate, sending a commemorative gift of a case of Philadelphia Cream Cheese that served two purposes: the county also held the no. 1 spot for cream cheese producers in the world. Secondly, the cream cheese would be packed with snow from the historic event.
Of course, some questioned the results of the measurements and the techniques used – namely those in Colorado who may have had their pride bruised. According to the National Weather Service out of Buffalo, Mr. Ottoshavett took measurements six times during the period in question to lessen the impact of weight playing a factor in packing the snow down and it was questioned by one person that “God knows what techniques they used in 1920-whatever-it-was.”
Apparently at the heart of the issue was the snow spotter taking measurements more often during the period than was expected to, despite the fact that some measurements were clustered around the timeframe when the heaviest snow fell. This would lead to a what should be a question on Jeopardy! someday: Who is responsible for weather-related records? Who is The National Climatic Data Center in Ashville, N.C., a federal office, is who, and they would be brought into the foray to make a determination.
The committee’s findings in their executive summary would note both findings and recommendations. Below are a few highlights from the summary which, along with the entire report, be viewed here.
All evidence suggests that the snow that fell at Montague during this storm was of a very light, fluffy nature (low density) and accumulated to a great amount.
However, an inconsistency arose when these six operationally oriented snow measurements were added by The Weather Channel to get a total for a 24-hour period. The resulting 77-inch snowfall amount was checked and then acknowledged by WSFO BUF, and thereafter reported by both sources as a new national climatological record.
NWS standards for climatological observations of snowfall require that no more than four observations, taken with a maximum frequency of once every six hours, be summed within any 24-hour period to compute the total snowfall for that period. More frequent measurements taken by clearing the snow board tend to increase totals. Recognized climatic snowfall records should be based only on observations that satisfy climatic data standards.
The committee recommends that the six January 11-12 Montague snowfall observations be recognized as valid, individual snowfall measurements that, when used in real- time by WSFO BUF, provided meaningful short-term snowfall intensity information for operational NWS programs. However, in consideration of the too-frequent snowfall measurement intervals summed to derive the 24-hour snowfall total, the committee further recommends that the 77-inch total not be recognized as an official climatological snowfall amount for that 24-hour period.
While Montague wasn’t crowned with the recording having 77 inches of snow in 24 hours, the event will certainly be remembered and gave Lewis County reason to break out the cream cheese, a record they unequivocally hold (and that’s not measuring with taste buds, either.)
To put the snowfall amount into perspective, though, look at it this way: more snow fell on Montague, New York, in 24 hours than fell in some other Northern New York locations during the entirety of the Blizzard of ’77, including Watertown.