10 Worst Blizzards in US Winter Weather History

  • Dec 15, 2016

The Power of Winter Weather History

Everyone knows that studying history is one of the best ways to prepare for the a better future, but did you know that the same idea applies to winter weather history?

We use weather history to identify patterns and analyze trends so we can better prepare for tomorrow, next week or next month’s weather conditions. This information is critical for not only predicting and forecasting but for sharing important weather safety tips.

Join us as we take a look back at the 10 worst US winter storms and learn some tips along the way that will keep your organization warm and safe this winter season!

Winter Weather’s Worst Storms

Winter Weather History's Worst Blizzards

1. The White Hurricane 1913


The first storm on our list is the “White Hurricane” of 1913 and was the worst storm to ever hit the Great Lakes region. Hurricane-force winds created 35-foot waves on November 7-10, 1913.

More than 200 people died and eight ships sunk as a result of the storm. The National Weather Service‘s Meteorologist-in-Charge, Richard Wagenmaker, declared the storm “one of the deadliest maritime weather disasters in North American History.”

2. The Great Appalachian Storm 1950

Winter Weather History - the worst blizzards in US history

The second storm is the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950. This storm is one of the most meteorologically unique storms as it was both part-blizzard and part-hurricane.

The devastating cyclone formed on November 24, 1950 in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina and would become one of the deadliest winter storms of all time, killing 353 people and injuring over 150 others. La Nina conditions helped the storm reach hurricane-force wind speeds of 110mph and chilling temperatures.

Most of the snowfall occurred in Ohio, with over one foot of snow in some places.

3. The Blizzard of 1978

Worst Blizzards in Winter Weather History

One of the most catastrophic storms in winter weather history was the Blizzard of 1978. The storm (which was bad enough to get its own website), struck New England, New York and New Jersey from February 5-7, 1978.

Also known as ‘Storm Larry’ and ‘The Storm of the Century,’ the blizzard killed over 100 people and injured another 4,500. All economic activity halted and damages amounted to nearly $520 million.

Not only did snow totals break records in various parts of New England, but hurricane-force winds were recorded as well. Many blame inadequate forecasting as a reason behind the high death tolls and economic losses. Knowing before a storm hits is critical to mitigate both financial and human risks.

4. The Superstorm of 1993


Replacing the Blizzard of ’78 as ‘The Storm of the Century,’ the Blizzard of 1993 was one of the most intense mid-latitude cyclones ever observed over the Eastern US.

High winds knocked out power to over 10 million customers. Storm surge and heavy snow also negatively impacted many areas. Locations in Tennessee and North Carolina measured 60 and 50 inches of snow, respectively. Since the storm moved throughout a densely populated portion of the US, many people died as a result: approximately 208.

5. The Blizzard of 1996

Worst Blizzards in Winter Weather history

The next blizzard from winter weather history to make our list was the Blizzard of 1996.

As one of the most infamous storms in US, this nor’easter paralyzed New York and the rest of the East Coast with up to four feet of snow in some areas. Philadelphia accumulated 30.7 inches of snow which still stands as its record to date.

The storm killed a scary 154 people. Many died as a result of over-exertion from shoveling snow and other snow-related accidents and economic losses are estimated near the $3 billion mark.987

6. The Blizzard of 2005


Over 40 inches of snow blanketed the Northeast from January 20-23, 2005. The blizzard hit Massachusetts the hardest, but also affected Philadelphia and New York with snow totals in the mid-teens.

The storm shut down major airports in Massachusetts and close schools for up to a week in some places. After hitting the northern US, the storm traveled all the way across the Atlantic Ocean and impacted parts of the UK as well.

7. Snowmageddon 2010

Winter Weather History

Snowmageddon was a combination of two blizzards hitting the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions back-to-back in February 2010. 25-30 inches of snow fell from Virginia to New York. The storm reportedly killed 41 people throughout Mexico and the US. The snowfall also caused power outages and widespread roof collapses.

8. The Groundhog Day Blizzard 2011

CAT 5 Winter Weather History - Groundhog Day Blizzard

The next powerful and historic winter storm on our list is the Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011. This is possibly the most far-reaching storm on our list as its impacts stretched from Mexico to Canada.

From January 31-February 2 2011, the storm dumped over 40 inches of snow in some areas that resulted in cancellation of thousands of flights. Intelligent airlines cancelled flights ahead of time to avoid confusion and to keep travelers out of harm’s way. Although this system was a blizzard, it consisted of other severe weather conditions like flash freeze, high winds, tornadoes and thundersnow. Approximately 24 people died during this storm.

9. Blizzard in Buffalo 2014

Buffalo Storm - Winter Weather history

Over six feet of snow paralyzed Buffalo and the surrounding area on November 18-20, 2014. Lake-effect snow from the Great Lakes covered western New York, resulting in 14 deaths.

The sheer amount of snow caused roofs to collapse and made major roadways, like the New York Thruway,  impassable for several days. The governor of New York announced a State of Emergency for several counties but that didn’t stop plenty of residents from documenting the historic amount of snow.

10. Winter Storm Jonas 2016

Winter Storm Jonas - Winter Weather history

The most recent major blizzard storm that impacted the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast United States is known as Winter Storm Jonas. Jonas evolved from a shortwave trough and dumped over three feet of snow in some areas from January 22-24.

Numerous states along the east coast called for travel bands and snow emergencies as the National Guard went on standby to prepare for the storm’s effects. The blizzard resulted in the death of 55 people throughout the affected regions. The high snow totals also resulted in mass power outages as well as an estimated $500 million to $3 billion economic loss, mostly from organizations that failed to prepare.

Did We Miss Any?

The amount of devastating winter storm’s in US history is much greater than ten, but thankfully death tolls are much smaller in recent years than they were around 100 years ago. This is all thanks to emergency weather planning, better forecasting and proactive safety advocates.

Did we miss any storms you thought we’d have on the list? Be sure to mention them in the comments below!

If you’re interested in planning for this year’s blizzards with real-time weather data in the places that matter to you most, try Sferic Maps. Sferic Maps and Mobile are the best combination of tools to help organizations make better weather-related decisions because they rely on commercial weather data. What’s the difference between free and paid weather data? We have a free ebook to help you understand.

Click here to read our free vs. commercial weather data guide so you can figure out which is best for your organization