The Worst Snowstorms in United States History

If you live in the Northeast, you've been through your fair share of snowstorms. You probably even have a memory of your own worst snowstorm. In honor of Mother Nature's icy and relentless wrath, we present the biggest blizzards and snowstorms in United States history.

If you live in the Northeast, you’ve been through your fair share of snowstorms. You probably even have a memory of your own worst snowstorm – when the snow piled up high against your door, or the power went out, or school was closed for a week. In honor of Mother Nature’s icy and relentless wrath, we present the biggest blizzards and worst snowstorms in United States history.

The Great Blizzard of ’88 – 1888

In March of 1888, the Northeast was faced with one of the worst blizzards in American history. Also known as the Great White Hurricane, the Great Blizzard of ’88 left as much as 55 inches of snowfall in some areas, and caused disaster wherever it went. The entire area from Washington, D.C., to Maine suffered from brutal winds, massive snowdrifts and catastrophic damage. Over the course of the three-day blizzard, over 400 people were killed. Major cities like New York City and Boston ground to a halt as their railway and telegraph lines were buried or destroyed. The disastrous effects of the Great Blizzard of ’88 actually inspired Boston to create the first underground subway system in the country.

The Worst Snowstorms in U.S. History
An early automobile is stranded during the Knickerbocker Storm.

The Knickerbocker Storm – 1922

On Jan. 28, 1922, more than 2 feet of snow fell on Washington, D.C. The weight of the snow collapsed the roof of the Knickerbocker Theatre, killing 98 people. This led to stricter building codes to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. To this day, the Knickerbocker Storm holds the record for the most snowfall in D.C., and the Knickerbocker Theater’s collapse remains its deadliest disaster.

The Great Appalachian Storm – 1950

On Thanksgiving weekend of 1950, as much as 62 inches of snow blasted the central Appalachians. As if that wasn’t enough, the area was also beset by frigid cold and intense wind storms. Right after the storm passed, temperatures became unseasonably warm, which led to extensive flooding from the snowmelt. Overall, the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 caused at least 160 deaths.

The Blizzard of ’78 – 1978

The Blizzard of 1978 struck on Feb. 5, and didn’t dissipate until two days later. The nor’easter broke snowfall records in Boston (27.1 inches), Providence (27.6 inches) and Atlantic City (20.1 inches). The huge amounts of snow dumped by the storm were matched with hurricane-force winds and coastal flooding. The severity of the blizzard hadn’t been anticipated, and many people were forced to shelter in place for days at a time. Motorists found themselves stranded in their cars in the middle of snowy highways. An estimated 100 people lost their lives.

The Storm of the Century – 1993

In March of 1993, a great cyclonic storm formed in the Gulf of Mexico. As the storm progressed up the East Coast, it began to snow in regions as far south as Alabama and Georgia. The snowstorm stretched from those Southern regions into Maine and even Canada. The affected areas were battered with unseasonably frigid temperatures, powerful wind gusts and up to 60 inches of snow. At one point, every major airport on the East Coast was closed. It was one of the first major storms predicted several days in advance thanks to computer forecast models. While the advanced warnings no doubt saved lives, 318 people still lost their lives. The Storm of the Century is known as one of the deadliest American storms of the 20th century.

The Great Blizzard of 2003

From Valentine’s Day to Feb. 19, the Great Blizzard of 2003 swept across the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast. Every major city from Washington, D.C., to Boston was covered in an enormous blanket of snow, with many areas getting up to 2 feet. Airports across the Northeast suspended flights and shut down operations completely, while New York City, Boston and Philadelphia transformed into icy ghost towns as residents hunkered down against the bitter cold. The Great Blizzard of 2003 caused 27 deaths and put an entire region of the country on hold.

Snowmageddon – 2010

In February of 2010, two blizzards – one on Feb. 4-7 and one on Feb. 9-11 – hit within just days of each other. Most people agree that “Snowmageddon” refers to the first blizzard, but the second storm is sometimes included in the term. However you define it, it was called “Snowmageddon” for a reason: The storm wreaked havoc across the country, icing over roads in New Mexico and shutting down the federal government in the nation’s capital. The massive storm also led to transportation shutdowns and power outages, and killed 41 people in the U.S. and Mexico.

The Worst Snowstorms in U.S. History
New Yorkers attempt to dig a car out of the snowy streets of Bushwick.

Snowzilla – 2016

A January 2016 blizzard, hailed as Snowzilla, paralyzed the entire East Coast, leaving hundreds of thousands without power. Snow fell in areas as far south as Georgia, Alabama and even the Florida Panhandle. With intense snowfall, hail, wind gusts and whiteout conditions, it was unsafe to travel even short distances. In all, 55 people lost their lives. The snow reached a maximum height of 42 inches in Glengary, W.V.

What’s the worst snowstorm in United States history that you remember? How did you stay warm? Tell us your story in the comments below.


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6 Thoughts on “The Worst Snowstorms in United States History

  1. I was 6 years old during the Blizzard of 78’ in Northwest Ohio. I remember the snow covering our glass door with only inches of light at the top. It was weird seeing snow packed together through that glass. Once my step-dad dug us out to get out the door, the snow was as high as our neighbor’s shed. My older sister and I were sledding off from the top of that shed which was at least 1 story high. The snow had drifted in many places really high because, well, it was a blizzard. Our cars were completely buried. There was no help for days and the power went out. Then my parents had to cut up furniture to burn in our fireplace that had a wood burner inserted in it to keep us alive. We all had to sleep near the fire because the back bedrooms were too cold to sleep in. We had to cook our food on pans on top of that wood burner. I will never forget and have always had a sense to be prepared for storms after that.

  2. Snowpocalypse – spring 2015. It probably didn’t make the list because it wasn’t a single storm or two major storms but the snow piled up and up vs other years when snow melted away between storms.

    1. When I was six years old I remember going up to our cabin and it’s not so much the night before that we had to dig out the driveway to get up to the cabin and I remembered following my dad‘s footsteps, and the snow went up to my chest a good 4 feet of snow fell that night. It is really heavy wet snow so it’s extremely hard to walk. I will never forget that slow walk up to the cabin porch. My dad also feared that the cabin roof would collapse. So with the older children my mom and my dad went up to the roof and shoveled snow off for hours to make sure that the roof didn’t have more snow on it. That was a crazy winter!

  3. January 1996. Northern New Jersey. My husband fell in the house and broke his ankle during the blizzard. The ambulance crew had to shovel to get to the house. It was snowing so hard that they had to shovel again to get him out to the ambulance. They got stuck 2 times on their way to the ER. The surgeon on call couldn’t get in until the next day. When it stopped snowing, it was so deep that my car was up to the bottom of the windows in snow. Family dug me out 2 days later.

  4. In the winter of 1947-1948, the snow storm that occurred in N.Y.C. totally paralyzed the city. Public transportation and automobiles came to a halt and food stores were closed for days. I lived in Sunset Park, Brooklyn at the time; I was 11 years old and had recently arrived to New York! There must have been at least 5 feet of snow! I’ve never forgotten it.

  5. In the early 1940’s a huge snowstorm blasted New York City. So much covered the ground that I remember seeingkids on my block, East 52nd Street, building an igloo. The steam radiators in our apartment were really banging away.

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