North American Blizzard of 1996

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North American Blizzard of 1996

A man braves the elements during the blizzard of 1996.

Patti McConville/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

On Jan. 6, 1996, the longest weather-related closure of the U.S. federal government loomed -- and it all started with just a few snowflakes. Before long, however, the few lonely snowflakes that began falling in Washington, D.C. at 9 p.m. began to amass into an army as a blustery nor'easter colliding with warmer winds in the Gulf of Mexico brought more and more snow.

In Washington, D.C., 12 inches (30.4 centimeters) of snow fell in just 24 hours. Nearby cities, such as Lynchburg, Va., received 20 inches (50.8 centimeters) of snow in the same time period. Thanks to record-setting snowfalls (like those around Lynchburg and the District of Columbia) and gusting winds, there were blizzard conditions that made travel -- and commuting to work -- a near impossibility. Then-President Bill Clinton declared D.C. a disaster area and the federal government shut down for a record-setting six days. Nine states were also declared disaster areas [source: History].

Sixty people died throughout the region during the storm, which included 5- to 8-foot (1.5 to 2.4 meter) snowdrifts caused by winds gusting up to 60 miles (96.5 kilometers) per hour. The area's weather troubles were compounded by a warm weather rainstorm that struck one week later; between the melted snow and additional precipitation, widespread flooding occurred [source: NOAA].

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