The Worst Blizzards in Recent History

Looking Back at Memorable February Storms

February 1, 2018
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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Do you have memories of bad blizzards? Let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable February storms of the past 50 years.

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
The “Megalopolitan Blizzard” dumped 22 inches of snow on Staten Island and left hundreds of cars stranded on the Staten Island Expressway. Photo Credit: 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
The “Snowpocalypse” of 2011 shut down these vehicles, including a snowplow, on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. Photo 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 typically 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! 

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Blizzard of "78 at UConn

I was attending school at UConn in Storrs, CT, during the blizzard of "78. I was living in the one of the dorms on campus. I recall the snow being waist high and having drifts over my shoulders in places. We helped shovel some cars out to allow people to get home after a day of constant hard snow. Meanwhile, in "the jungle" portion of campus people were partying pretty hard with a day off of school. I'm told someone was using a third floor bathroom as a sauna, and people were jumping out of the third floor window after the sauna in various states of undress. Unfortunately, the snow pile below the window began to compress, and someone broke his ankle in the snow pile. Fortunately, the person was not lying in the snow pile too long before medical care arrived! Kudos to the fire department!

Weather

July is generally the driest month in these parts. February is the 3rd wettest month.

Blizzard of 78

Dayton, OH - My sister didn't want to go to school the next day and asked for snow in her bedtime prayers. Dad said he still would have to go to work so she ammended her prayer to "Please make it snow hard enough Daddy doesn't have to go to work" The blizzard the next day closed the school and Dad's regular job but he worked part time for the fire department rescue squad so he worked anyways...

blizzard of prayers

The Editors's picture

Thanks for sharing, Katie. This sounds like a story that you and your family share and remember fondly.

2 Blizzards I remember,

The first one was March 1963, I was 11 years old and my family & I were returning to
Belle Fourche, South Dakota. I could not even tell you the day in any case we were driving on HWY 212 from Watertown (my Father's hometown) on our way to Belle Fourche, SD. We were driving along and it was snowing and my Uncle was driving and he just happened to say that the weather was turning bad, of course there is not too many stops along this road. We went as far as we could and were stopped by a large snow drift or hill just had to stop where we were and hoped that someone would come checking. Well it was about 30 minutes a Sheriff on horseback came to our car, told his all the roads were closed, we were only 1 mile from Faith, SD. He said could take one on the horse with him, the others were to walk to the Faith Hotel. I went with the sheriff and my family was not far behind. We stayed there 3 days until the roads were opened. When we left the snow was pile at least 10ft high.

The next blizzard was 1968. We lived in Sandpoint, Idaho and the second week December it started snow and now I was a sophomore in High School. it kept snowing and we were still going to school everyday. It was piling up but this town is used to snow. But I remember on 12/12 that year we were released from school early because it was snowing really a lot. So we got out of school 12/12 and did not go back to school until January 1969. We missed 2 weeks of school before the Christmas break, then 2 weeks Christmas Break all the way through January I'm guessing the 10th. It was a long time, I will tell you the snow was piled in our front yard that we did not see our neighbors across the street until March. People were getting around with snowmobiles, and anyone with a car had bright orange balls on their antenna's of the cars so you see if anyone was coming at intersections.

Just two that stand out to me in my life.

Blizzards in South Dakota

Thank you for sharing...I have family that lives in Watertown and I grew up in CA, love to hear about the different climate and lifestyle.
Julie

S Dakota and Idaho storms

The Editors's picture

Great stories, Diane! Those were the days. Makes me think of the Blizzard of 1978 in New England. These storms can be dangerous but there is also fascination and wonder about Mother Nature. Safe travels!

Blizzard of '78 -- January 21 st

They didn't call it the Great White Hurricane for nothing. Winds were well over 100 MPH, I was 12 y/o and in 7th grade, We were dismissed early the previous day , before it started, The junior high principal announced, "Go straight home" .. I remember how scared he sounded. It was lightly raining then.

The next morning at 4;30 am, I woke up to hear wind, howl like I have never heard since. I was in Clyde Ohio then. We had gas stove and cooking by flashlight. I also remember after school resumed about 7 days later that we were walking in the street between 8 - 10 feet snow canyon walls. All of the walks were still buried, The National Guard was brought in to help clear roads.

Storms like that stay with you, and people still make fun of you about getting milk, bread before storms, But they've never been through anything like that. And 4 WD don't go through snow that high or they still slip/slide on ice, they get too cocky nowadays.

Blizzard of '78/Clyde!!

Seriously, Clyde, OH?? That's where I was!! Raining the night before; no indication of anything coming. Next morning, no electric/no school. Our landlord came and got us all out of our apartments and took us to his house . . . I didn't figure it was so bad until we walked around the corner of the apartment building and got hit by the wind!! Probably 10+ in their family room with a fireplace a couple days . . . Wow!! Yep, the snow was deep!! Something to always remember!!

Clyde, OH

The Editors's picture

Terrific tales! Thank you for taking the time to share with everyone!

Blizzard of 1996

As mentioned previously from a gentleman in New Jersey, We, in West Chester, Pennsylvania, enjoyed a 3-day blizzard totaling 37+ inches. When all was said and shoveling done, the snow was higher than our almost 4 year old. Thank goodness for wood stove heat and being prepared. Riding out the storm was fun for the kids, and the snow forts the following WEEKS kept us entertained. This was also the winter that schools were closed more days than they were open, during January and February, due to snow and then ice storms. Tough (and memorable) winter.

Blizzard of '77

The worst blizzard I have experienced was in Rising Sun, Ohio. Two people died less than a mile from my farm house. We heated with wood and I had to go out to the wood lot and split some wood which had already been cut. I filled my pickup truck but ran out of wood. The only saving grace was a black walnut log I had near the house which I had been saving for cutting slabs from. I sure hated to lose that log.

the black walnut log

The Editors's picture

Thanks for sharing, Michael!

February 2010

I remember all of the blizzards mentioned in the article, and yet the blizzard I remember most was not covered. For me, the worst blizzard in memory culminated on February 26th, 2010, when it killed my dad.

It had been snowing hard for several days in upstate NY. We had drifts well over our heads, and snow up past our waists. There was nowhere else to put it, despite a pickup with a plow and desperate efforts to keep up. Dad tried to take out his trash, and had a heart attack in the driveway. It took over an hour for the ambulance to finally get through because of the snow. I was fresh out of a wheelchair, myself, yet sitting in the snow breathing for him, while the garbage man pumped his heart, just trying to keep him alive till the paramedics arrived to take over.

February is not my favorite month.

Feb 26, 2010

The Editors's picture

Oh, Gayze, what a story. Sorry for your loss—and appreciate your having the courage to tell us all here. February is almost over…

Buffalo NY Blizzard of 2014 Dumps 8 Feet of Snow Overnight

Be thankful you don’t live in Buffalo, New York — In November 2014, record snowfalls pummeled the area, leaving some stranded or trapped in their homes, schools, and offices for days. Lifelong Buffalo residents are calling it worse than the Blizzard of 1977, the infamous snowstorm that created snow drifts up to 30 feet high. The 24-hour snowstorm dumped 8 feet of snow on the area.

Buffalo in deep

The Editors's picture

Ah, yes, “lake effect” snow—if memory serves, this even made news around the country and maybe beyond! Thanks for the memories!

Georgia's Blizzard

While I understand many folks are used to extreme snow events and even blizzards, that is definitely not the case for those of us here in the Deep South. I was in middle school when the Blizzard of '93 hit. None of us believed we'd even get snow (it was March afterall), much less anything more. Well, I remember my friends and I trying to play during what I assume was the height of the storm but could barely stay standing because the winds were so strong. When all was said and done, there were 7' snow drifts and more snow than I've ever seen! I've researched and have been unable to find where Georgia has ever encountered another blizzard.

Georgia blizzard of 93

The Editors's picture

Wow— that is one for the record books! Thanks for telling everyone about it.

Blizzards

You discuss recent blizzards - what about previous years? In particular, I'd like to learn more about a great blizzard that affected Kansas in the late 1800's. My great-grandfather had taken the family from Illinois to Great Bend, Kansas, to establish a farm. They survived many challenges, but that terrible blizzard was too much, and they returned to Illinois. I'm not sure of the year, but I remember a story of my great-- grandmother being in town when it hit. It quickly became impossible to see, and she gave the mare Dolly her head, and they made it safely home. (That saved me from being lost in Kansas once, as well)
I'm sure there were other notable blizzards over the ages. It would be interesting to hear about others, as well.
Grandma Susi
Oklahoma

Blizzrds in 1800s

Read The Children's Blizzard; a historical, non-fiction describing the plight of the school teachers, students and families in the Dakotas when the storm blew in from Canada. As described by eye witnesses or in their diaries, the morning began with a balmy 30's and temps fell below zero, wind chill even colder. Many children froze to death trying to reach home.
your family was lucky the mare could get her bearing to get her home!

Blizzard in Georgia

I remember the blizzard of 1993. Me and my young daughter almost got locked outside of house. We went out without our keys to the house to learn what it would be like to be in a blizzard. If we had delayed on minute longer, we would have been locked out of house. As soon as we came in through the garage and got it closed, the power went out.

Blizzard of '78

Tough to top the Blizzard of '78 in total impact on New England. Many of us were stranded for days with no way to get anywhere because of unplowed streets. Then when plows finally did arrive, in many cases even the biggest and best were pretty much unable to move the snow. In my 75 years living in southern New Hampshire, no other storm comes even close.

Blizzard of 1978

The town of Sharon MA. received an enormous amount of snow during that storm. I read in the town History, that they received 60 " during that particular storm. It took me 6 hours to get home. My friend and I were the last vehicle before 128 shut down. The picture of the semi across the traffic lanes on rte 128. WE just barely made it as the semi was sliding sideways across the road. Visibility at time was zero. We were following barley visible tire tracks down 128 to rte 3. As we neared the bridge crossing the north river in the Marshfield are the snow began turning to rain.

Blizzard

During the '78 blizzard I was living in Waterbury, VT. Storm seemed about normal for northern Vermont in February. Helped a neighbor carry 4'x8' plywood boards up hill (in wind) to barn, to build a stall for a large pregnant pig. Meanwhile, Vermont Transportation was sending plow trucks to Massachusetts to help clear Rt. 128. I was laughing my head off.

You want to talk blizzard?

Oct 31-Nov 3, 1991, Halloween Blizzard. Over 28 inches at MSP, nearly 37 inches at Duluth. Nasty windchill conditions, deep snow drifts harsh on wildlife, many roads closed for days. Perhaps one of the largest and longest lasting blizzards in state history.

Feb 75 or 74

In Omaha ne it started in the morning on a work day at 1100 or so they started closing everything down we got stuck behind a snow plow didn't move but maybe 4 miles in 4 hours ended up spending the nite in a bakery with lots of other people walked home next morning the drifts were so high were walking on top of things! It was kinda fun!!

Blizzards

Born, raised and living in Chicago. During my lifetime I have experienced blizzards in 1967 (the highest snow amount officially at 23"), 1979, 1999, 2011 and 2015 (officially the lowest snow amount at "only" 19.3").

Blizzard of 96

I live in New Jersey, about 15 miles from Philadelphia, in Medford. January 6th of 1996 through the 8th had to be one of the most intense blizzards I recall. It seemed to snow, non-stop, for three days, and by the 7th I was pretty much housebound as there was no way I could dig my car out of the snow. Thankfully, I had stocked up on what I needed and rode out this wintery event. I do recall the day after it stopped, feeling stir crazy, I bundled up and walked to a local shopping center. I actually walked on a highway, there were no cars anywhere, and I remember the sky being sort of purple and gray. The only place opened at the shopping center was a liquor store. Needless to say, I bought some spirits and trudged home. Everything was so quiet and so still, it was both eerie and calming at the same time.

The best thing about this event was that my place of employment pretty much closed down for a week, so I got nice early winter vacation out of the deal!

blizzards

The most snow I ever experienced was the great Chicago blizzard of 1967...I was 12 and I remember they let us out of school early at noon...the sidewalks were already full of snow and we walked in the street. The wind was blowing the snow horizontally and so fiercely we had to hold our open lunchboxes in front of our faces as a shield. The next morning the entire street was blanketed and so much snow all the cars were covered. We walked to the A&P grocery pulling a sled. My, I guess we were real pioneers!

Blizzard 2011

That was the first blizzard I ever saw in my 60 plus years! It snowed a record setting 14 inches and was on the ground for several days in Tulsa. I never want to see that much snow all at one time again!

Colorado blizzard

I remember the blizzard of 1982 in Denver, Co. But I also remember here in Idaho, not a blizzard, in 2016 to 2017 we had so much snow about 3 feet at our home, we had to shovel snow off of 2 roofs.

Blizzard of 1971

February 20-21 1971. North central Oklahoma. 15 inches in the Enid area. East-west roads drifted completely, five to six foot drifts. Cattle wandered far from home pastures. No school for 4 days.

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, Cute and Other

It would be nice to know exactly where this huge blizzard took place.

Blizzard of ‘77 South Niagara, Port Colborne, Ontario

Yes, the Blizzard of 1977, is legend here in South Niagara...along the shore of Lake Erie...Long Beach, Port Colborne, Ridgeway, Ontario Canada, and across the border here to Buffalo, and Western NY.
It is documented in a well known book called “White Death, The Blizzard of 77”, by a local teacher and naturalist, Erno Rossi.
It was beyond a blizzard, it was deadly and tragic, everyone born here or living here has harrowing stories to tell.
The actual situation was caused by frozen solid Lake Erie, covered in thousands of square miles of deep snow, which was blown into shore by sustained gale force winds for days. (aside from regular snowfall).
Today authorities on both sides of the border monitor snow cover on Lake Erie in deep cold winters, I have heard the Army Corps of Engineers in Buffalo monitors for the U.S., (such as in 2015...deepest freezes on record for underground, long sustained polar vortex, and snow far up houses to second floor windows), however, we were fortunate, we did not experience a wind blizzard, from the lake. Just the regular one! at that time.
Sadly people lost their lives in 1977, and were hurt, lost homes etc, but the stories I have heard over the years...are all about extraordinary kindness, courageous rescue and life-sustaining efforts that ordinary people did, really the story is about people helping each other to survive the blizzard, and save lives.

77 blizzard

If you read the article without a predisposition, they stated Buffalo, NY, as the blizzards destination.

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.

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