Snowbound memories blizzard of ’96

By on January 6, 2016

Revisiting the blizzard of ’96



It was 20 years ago this week when snow idled Lititz and the extended region for days.

But the mention of the Blizzard of 1996 yields  bright faces and happy recollections of  events that happened under, above, around, and within nearly three feet of snow.

What often comes to mind about that snow storm which began Friday, Jan. 7, 1996, are altered plans, unique bonding, unusual trips to shop for food and necessities, and visions of a vehicle mishaps.LITITZ BLIZZZ

Judith Sweigart Shaffer’s family had planned a get-together for her parent’s 50th wedding anniversary that weekend.

“We had a big party planned to celebrate with guests coming from out of state. Needless to say, we had to cancel the party,” she noted.

But like most people you talk to, she spoke of other memories that were forged due to the unusual circumstances in which sequestered families were almost entirely cut off from transportation.

“My brother and his children and my husband and myself ended up celebrating by having pizza at their apartment,” Judith said. “We were going to take them out to a restaurant the next weekend to celebrate, but we got more snow the next weekend.”

Traffic accidents were so numerous during the blizzard that police in Lancaster County often didn’t respond unless someone was injured. Eventually all travel was banned by the governor except for special exception.

Those who tried to travel often didn’t make out so well. More than a few failed to negotiate East Newport Road, even after the snow had stopped by Jan. 11.

David Eshelman was driving east just after noon in a Warwick Township truck when he slowed down to make a left onto Skyview Lane. But Daryl Lapp, of Bird in Hand, who traveled behind, couldn’t slow down on the still snow-covered East Newport Road.

Lapp’s pickup truck hit the 1984 Ford 800 vehicle. He told police as he “started down the hill I pumped the brakes but lost control.”

No fewer than eight local vehicle accidents occurred in which motorists slid off the road only to run into snow walls or snow banks, according to newspapers reports.

LITITZ BLIZZZ1Once snow was removed from the streets, intersections became dangerous because snow — piled as high as 12 feet — obstructed visibility.

But business was brisk for retailers in the business of helping residents remove snow.

For instance, Bombergers sold 61 snow blowers (and told customers no more were coming that season) and nearly 200 shovels.

The sledding season didn’t get any better, or longer that year. In fact, sledding became a preferred form of travel, said Kathy Frantz Keeney.

“I remember packing up our daughters and pulling them on a sled down Snyder Hill Road and Newport to pick-up groceries at Bob’s Market,” she said. “It was such an adventure.”

Barb Fishel remembers having an important appointment scheduled at Lancaster General Hospital when the snow began 20 years ago.

Sledding was not an option in this case.

She was prepared to have a cesarean section and  remembers “a long slow bumpy ride to LGH” on Jan.10, 1996.

“The doctor came in on snowmobile,” she noted. “My husband had to get special permission from the mayor to travel back and forth to the hospital because there was a ban on travel. The snow just kept on coming.”

The snow of course covered the entire region and shut down trains, buses, airports and even major cities.

Alan Parker of Lititz was living in Philadelphia in 1996 and remembers “the city was in utter shutdown mode.”

“The only store that was open were the local Wawas,” he noted, “and I was glad they were there.”

Parker described a “surreal” city where people bonded together.

“Looking at snowdrifts up the side of buildings in Philly up to 10-feet high and maybe higher,” he said.  “But at the same rate, people were always helping people get over the snow and honestly being very helpful.”

While most people say they’d never want to go through it again, the memory of the storm almost always brings a sense of joy.

“It’s a fun memory though,” Fishel said. “My snow baby is turning 20 this year.”

But that’s not true for everyone. James Huber claimed to “have a mental block when it comes to snow…..any snow.”

“If it’s over 1,000 miles away, then and only then, it’s OK,” he joked.

Patrick Burns is social media editor and staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at or at 721-4455.

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