“Weather forecasting has advanced tremendously since then,” says Bob Robichaud. “The chances of being caught off guard by something like that are quite low.”
Which is not to suggest we couldn’t get another storm like it, he says, but forecasters would be better able to see it coming now than they were in 1976.
“We’d have a good idea of that at least a couple of days ahead of time,” he says.
And while the Groundhog Day storm wasn’t a hurricane – the Atlantic hurricane season is June 1 to Dec. 1 – Robichaud notes that winter storms can be just as powerful.
“It’s not that unusual to get hurricane-force winds from a winter storm,” says Robichaud. “This Groundhog Day storm was kind of an extreme example of that.”
Part of the legacy of the Groundhog Day storm is the storm surge warning program forecasters use. Warnings are issued if water levels are expected to reach a certain threshold.
That the 1976 storm coincided with very high tides made it even more damaging.
Despite the fury of that wind on Feb. 2 four decades ago, people who remember the storm may also recall the sun was shining, which is not uncommon with this kind of intense storm, Robichaud says.
“You have what we call a dry slot,” he says. “You can get some incredibly strong winds, and actually there’s a layer of dry air that wraps around the centre of the storm, so that dry air can come up and actually clear the skies right out so you can see the sun.”
Had the Groundhog Day storm happened on another day, who knows what people would be calling it now. Robichaud notes that the named storms of the hurricane season tend to get lots of attention, as forecasters track their progress and the media report on them.
A more recent example of a bad storm often referred to by name, even though it wasn’t a hurricane, was the big blizzard of February 2004. Happening five months after hurricane Juan, the storm was dubbed White Juan.
As for the Groundhog Day gale of ‘76 the storm arrived unannounced and with no official moniker, but it quickly made a name for itself.