National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

January 18- 20 1961

This storm is dubbed the "Kennedy Inaugural Snowstorm" since it occurred on the eve of John F Kennedy's Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C.

A cold front dropped south from the Great Lakes before undergoing frontolysis allowing an existing stationary front draped across the Tennessee Valley to return north as a wave of low pressure rode along it. As the initial front crossed high pressure built south from southern Ontario, which permitted cold air to infiltrate from the north.


Unlike most nor'easters, the surface low tracked farther north over the mid Ohio Valley, which resulted in the coastal low developing farther north off the Virginia coast, opposed to the Carolinas like most of the systems summarized. Nonetheless, impacts were similar with six inches of snow or greater east of a line from Clarksburg to Charleston to Williamson.


The surface low tracked from Tennessee eastward across the Southern Appalachians then off the southeastern Virginia coast. The system moved rapidly to the east part due to the lack of cold air trapped east of the Appalachians. The low rapidly intensified shortly after it reached the Atlantic ocean from 12Z the 20th to 00Z th 21st. During that time frame the minimum central pressure fell 43mbs in the time frame above.


The 850mb charts illustrated a transitory area of low pressure ejecting from the central Rockies on the 18th of January. The low closed off around 12Z on the 19th south of Louisville. The forward speed of the low slowed from here on out as it reached the Atlantic seaboard just off the Eastern shore of Maryland by 12Z the 20th. It continued its progression slowly to the northeast and continued to intensify as it progressed towards the Canadian maritimes. With the track of the low, West Virginia was positioned in a favorable spot for significant snow accumulation. 850mb Temperatures never recovered above -1C staying between -1C to -6C for the duration of the event.


A strong ridge of high pressure dominated much of the western United States with a trough over the Great Lakes and New England. A fast confluent flow encompassed the Ohio Valley with a strong westerly mid level jet. This orientation steered the surface low due east across Mid-Atlantic. In fact, the mid level jet strengthened with time reaching its peak at 00Z on the 21st.


Total snowfall accumulations where similar to the Feburary 1958 storm system save for the this system brought six inch snowfall amounts farther to the west encompassing nearly all of the West Virginia lowlands. Snow totals can be found here.

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