Blizzards: Worst Blizzards in History

Blizzards in February: Needham

THE BLIZZARD OF ’78 PILED UP CARS ON ROUTE 128 IN NEEDHAM, MASSACHUSETTS, OUTSIDE BOSTON.

JIM MCDEVITT, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS

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With our forecast of a blizzard in many spots this February, it might be interesting to look at a few of the worst blizzards in history. Let’s stick to recent history—blizzards we remember!

Worst Blizzards in (Recent) History

  • Does anyone remember the blizzard of February of 1972?  I was near Ithaca, New York, where it snowed heavily between around 9:00 a.m. until about 1:00 p.m., leaving an accumulation of 29 inches during the 5 hours or so that it snowed. Helping to push cars that were stuck in the snow that afternoon, I felt cold for perhaps the first time in my life, as my metabolism began its downward slope to where I have to carefully watch my weight today.
  • Another memorable storm is the Blizzard of ’78, on February 6 to 7, 1978. At the height of the storm, I drove to my workplace on the shore of the Hudson River in Ossining, New York. The snow was falling so heavily that my windshield wipers could not keep up with it, and I had to periodically pull over to clean my windshield. When I got to work, I found that it was closed due to the storm. I immediately started my return trip home, under even worse conditions. That 1978 storm is considered one of the worst blizzards in U.S. history, as it brought then-record snowfall to places from Atlantic City to Boston and caused nearly $2 billion in damage (in current dollars).
  • Another of the worst blizzards—sometimes called the “Megalopolitan Blizzard”—occurred on February 10 to 12, 1983, burying an area from Virginia to southern New England in 20 or more inches of snow and bringing thundersnow to areas from Washington, D.C., and Baltimore to Philadelphia.

blizzard_of_83_eddie_danna.jpg
 

THEMEGALOPOLITAN BLIZZARD” DUMPED 22 INCHES OF SNOW ON STATEN ISLAND AND LEFT HUNDREDS OF CARS STRANDED ON THE STATEN ISLAND EXPRESSWAY. PHOTO: EDDIE DANNA/DANNA@SIADVANCE.COM

  • A more recent memorable blizzard was the February 1 to 2, 2011, “Snowpocalypse.” This storm brought heavy, blowing snow from northern Texas to New England and eastern Canada. Hardest hit was Chicago, whose 21.2 inches of snow, whipped by winds as high as 60 miles per hour, fell just short of its all-time record of 23 inches. Blizzard conditions affected many other large cities along the storm’s path, including El Paso, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, St. Louis, Des Moines, Milwaukee, Detroit, Indianapolis, Dayton, Cleveland, New York City, and Boston.chicago_feb_2_2011_victorgrigas_wm_full_width.jpg

    THESNOWPOCALYPSEOF 2011 SHUT DOWN THESE VEHICLES, INCLUDING A SNOWPLOW, ON CHICAGO’S LAKE SHORE DRIVE. Credit: VICTOR GRIGAS/WIKIMEDIA

What Causes Blizzards in February

Although it is the month of some of the greatest blizzards, February is the driest overall in terms of monthly total precipitation, which consists of rain plus melted snow and ice.

There are two reasons for this.

  1. First, the air is colder in winter, and since cold air can not hold as much water vapor as warm air, there is less moisture available and less potential for precipitation in winter.
  2. Second, February is the shortest month, which means that it has fewer days in which precipitation can occur.

Despite its overall dryness, February is a time when some of the largest snowfalls and worst blizzards have occurred. (See the definition of a blizzard and other winter weather terms.)

The reasons for this are are again twofold:

  1. First, by early February, the ground has hit its coldest temperature, making adjacent air colder and thus snow more likely in the presence of moisture.
  2. Second, as the days have grown longer since the winter solstice around December 21, a greater potential has developed for warmer air to the south to lift moisture into the atmosphere, bringing heavier snow amounts than in December and January.

Do you recall any major blizzards from your past?  Share below!  

Also, see our long-range weather forecasts for February and beyond! 

~ By  Michael Steinberg

Reader Comments

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Look at MANITOBA, CANADA

Those Bizzards in this column are very bad, BUT, in Manitaba we have Blizzards and Snow Storms most every year like those you showed, BUT, we're quite used to OUR WINTER WEATHER. I promise it's worth a look.

snow!

1st one in December, my car stuck in my long drive in my back lot, and just when it was almost able to be free, the 2nd one hit in January. Snow on the ground for 2 months. I hadn't seen that yet in my 5 yrs in the High Desert of Central Oregon.

Blizzards and First Photo

I experienced the blizzards of 1972 and 1978 here on Long Island, NY, and they certainly paralyzed the area for several days. In 1972, my brother and his wife were spending his weekend on leave from the Air Force base in NJ with my parents and me. They were stuck here, and he had to call in to his base every day, or else he would have been AWOL! I don't think they were able to leave until Wednesday. I was secretly glad they were stuck here, as we were enjoying their company!

Just wondering about the top photo - is that dated correctly? Those cars look more recent than 1978 to me.

Snow

In October of 1948, when I was twelve, we had a whopper of a storm. I don't recall how tall I was but the snow was over my waist. I had to walk nearly a mile to carry in buckets of coal for my aged Grandmother, half a mile uptown to sweep floors and fill a stoker, then over half a mile to fill the stoker at home. My Mother had gone to Denver on the train to watch Utah State Aggies play Denver University (they dropped football later). She could not get home for days because the train couldn't make the trip through the mountains. I also remember a time in February ('90s?) when it snowed about eleven inches every other day for over a week.

Awww... how cute

20 inches of snow? 60 mile an hour winds? 5 hour duration?
That's so cute, you think those are blizzards. Where I live that's called Tuesday.
Now hear what a REAL blizzard is like.

30 mph SUSTAINED wind with 70 mph gusts for 5 days.
136 inches of snow blown off of frozen Lake Erie and onto the only thing in it's way, Buffalo, NY.
Not realizing you are walking on top of cars as you try to make your way home.
Being able to touch traffic lights. Not the poles, the actual lights.
Thousands of abandoned cars.
Tragically, 9 people frozen to death, trapped in their vehicles.
The National Guard spending two weeks helping to clear roads.

That was January 27 to February 1, 1977. I was 12 years old and have seen many blizzards since, but the Blizzard of '77 remains the Grandaddy of them all.

When you folks live through that, then you can say you've been in a blizzard.

blizzards and snow

you should check recent history for SD for terrible snow and blizzards, sometimes vehicles are completely buried for days here, and its not a surprise for us, were used to it.