National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

January 19-21 1978

This was the last in a tri-fecta of winter storms over a seven day stretch that produced a full winter weather spectrum in the northeastern United States.  Snowfall amounts averaged between 10 to 16 inches across the state of West Virginia, while from Philadelphia northeast a foot and a half or greater was common.  The highest snowfall reported was across western Maryland and the northern West Virginia mountains, where nearly 30 inches of snow occurred.  In terms of societal impacts, this was the most crippling snowstorm in the northeast since 1969, not to mention one of the highest snow producing nor'easters to affect West Virginia.

High pressure built east from the northern plains on the evening of the 18th to northern Maine by the morning of the 20th. The anticyclone hung tough retreating into the Canadian Maritimes on the evening of the 20th. Its stay was long enough to trap cold air east of the Appalachians and keep sub-freezing temperature across much of West Virginia. The surface low responsible for this winter precipitation originated in the northern Gulf of Mexico during the day of the 19th then rapidly strengthened as it moved up the eastern seaboard on the 20th.  The bulk of the snow fell between 6Z and 18Z on the 20th. While the surface low was in southern New England, wrap around upslope snow showers continued across West Virginia for a good part of the 21st before winding down as high pressure built east from the Midwest.


The 850mb charts illustrated a closed low off southeastern Louisiana at 12Z on the 19th.  The low then tracked northeast reaching east central Alabama by 00Z on the 20th. The low continued its movement northeast tracking east of the Appalachians, while it strengthened slightly. With the cyclone track on the lee side of the Appalachians and boundary layer cold air advection under a northerly wind component, 850mb temperatures never surpassed 0C for the event.  This thermal structure and the placement on the northeast quadrant of the 850mb low, led to a period of heavy snowfall across West Virginia.  Strong cyclonic flow as the low continued into southern New England, kept the upslope snow in place through the 21st.   The cyclone did not undergo explosive cyclogenesis as the greatest change in geopotential heights was a decease of 60 meters in 12 hours.  Much like previous nor'easters that affected West Virginia, there was no closed 500mb low present with this storm either.  Initially a trough of low pressure crossed New England, while a second trough associated with the surface low ejected out of the Gulf Coast region and up the eastern seaboard.    

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