The Ten Worst Snowstorms in World History

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This winter saw snowy weather wreak havoc across the United Kingdom as it became clear that this country still isn’t prepared for icy conditions. Travel chaos erupted up and down the country as flights were delayed, trains canceled and roads closed a heavy snow and freezing temperatures drove the country to a standstill. There are those rare snowstorms that exceed all forecasts, break all records and cause mass devastation on an unprecedented scale; the UK’s so-called ‘Big Freeze’ certainly doesn’t fall into this category. So here are some truly devastating snowstorms that make the UK’s recent snowy spell seem like a touch of frost.

The Blizzard of 1888

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With up to 50 inches of snow dumped across the northeast of the United States this monster blizzard was aptly dubbed ‘The Great White Hurricane’. Major metropolitan areas like New York faced severe winds of up to 45miles an hour, drifts of more than 50 feet and floods caused when the snow melted. With fire departments unable to function, the financial losses from fires alone amounted to a staggering $25 million. Human casualties totaled 400, with 200 people dying in New York alone.

The Great Snow of 1717

1717

Any era would have been hard by the severity of the snowfall experienced in New England, United States in February and March of 1717. But at a time when transportation consisted of horseback or by foot these harsh series of snowstorms were particularly devastating. Boston and Philadelphia got hit the hardest, but it is uncertain how widespread the effects were as record-keeping in colonial New England was rather sketchy. With snow drifts of 25 feet high, entire houses were buried rapping people in their homes for days. Those fortunate enough exited from second story windows.

Lhunze County

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It may come as a surprise that Tibet’s climate is generally quite arid with low snowfall rates experienced during the winter months. For that reason, the snow storm that hit Lhzune County in October 2008 was particularly shocking. Officials reported snow depth of up to six feet as villages experienced continous snow fall for 36 hours. The severe blizzard caused may buildings to collapse, resulting in seven deaths. Rescue crews fought to clear roads and bring food and aid to those trapped by the storm. The unforgiving storm had detrimental economic effects as local farmers were forced to sell or slaughter large parts of their livestock.

The Storm of the Century

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Not only did this storm produce 60 inches of snow in some areas, it created torrential rains, winds and tornadoes. In early March 1993, a storm surged up on the east coast of the United States unleashing snow and wind on a wider area than any other storm in history.  The storm spread as far north as Canada to as far south as Central America. But the eye of the storm was focused on Cuba and the eastern states of the US where high winds were compared to that of a hurricane which ultimately created tornadoes. The storm claimed over 300 lives.

Armistice Day Blizzard

Armistice-Day-Blizzard

On November 11 1940, a devastating snow storm swept through the Midwest of the United States, encompassing Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. Some areas saw 27 inches of snow accompanied by 80 mph winds and snow drifts of up to 20 feet high. The storm claimed the lives of 154 people. The blizzard struck right in the middle of the duck hunting season killing 25 hunters due to a lack of preparation. Perhaps the most tragic story was the 66 people who died in Lake Michigan when three freighters and two small boats capsized due to the weight of the snow.

Iran Blizzard

Iran storm

Very little is known about the fierce blizzard that struck Iran in February of 1972, although with a death toll of approximately 4,000 it ranks as one of the deadliest snowstorms in history.  According to contemporary reports, whole communities were wiped out with the city of Ardakan and outlying villages hit the hardest hit, with no survivors in Kakkan or Kumar. In the northwest, near the border with Turkey, the village of Sheklab and its 100 inhabitants were buried by up to eight metres of snow.

Quebec Ice Storm

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Frequently described as the 20th century’s worst ice storm, an estimated $1 billion worth of damage were caused in Ontario and Quebec in January 4 to 10 1998. Roughly 2.5 million residents went without electricity for nearly a week in what was called the greatest natural disaster in Canadian history. Freezing rain exceeded 100mm – the largest amount on record.

Chinese Winter Storms

Chinese Winter storms

Chinas worst winter in 50 years occurred in January 2008 and coincided with the Chinese New Year festival. Transportation networks erupted into sheer chaos at a time where more than 178 million travelled to celebrate the holidays with their family. Dozens of people died as desperate revellers ignored warnings not to travel. The snow storm caused extensive damage to a vast number of low-rise buildings, the roofs of which collapsed, killing occupants inside. It was estimated that about 223,000 homes were destroyed and 862,000 others were damaged. According to some media sources the storms were directly responsible for at least 129 deaths

The Great Lakes Storm of 1913

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If you think blizzards are bad, add cyclones to the equation and you can see why The Great Lakes Storm of 1913 stands as the deadliest natural disaster to ever hit the Great Lakes region. Causing over 250 deaths, the monstrous blizzard was highly unpredicted by weather forecasters. Whiteouts and winds of up to 90mph caused unforeseen disasters leading to the deaths of 250 people. The storm destroyed 19 ships, stranded 19 more and waves of up to 35 feet swept many sailors to their doom. In hindsight, meteorologists are astounded that a storm of this strength, which usually lasts for 4-5 hours, pounded these regions for 16.

The Children’s Blizzard

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One of the most tragic of snowstorms was so deadly because it arrived came unexpectedly during a warm day. The year 1888 was a brutal year for snow. Two months before the Great White Hurricane hit the northeast US in March, the Children’s Blizzard pounded Nebraska and the Midwest. Due to the idyllic conditions, revelers ventured outside unprepared to what was about to hit them. The arctic air swept in from the north and mixed with air that was packed with moisture from the south, creating blizzard conditions at a rapid level. Many school children were victims to the blizzard as they made their way home from school; many died of hypothermia. The majority of the 230 people who died were children

Aidan Donovan is a writer who produces articles for a number of van leasing companies. He has a wide array of knowledge.

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Comments

  1. Bob says

    I can’t believe you left the blizzard of 1977 off the list that hit Western New York. The whole western part of the state from Buffalo to Rochester was paralyzed for days!

  2. Jeremy says

    They always talk about it as the Quebec Ice Storm but it hit northern Maine the worst. The rural area I grew up was without power in many places for as long as a month due to the entire power system just collapsing, literally, thousands of electric poles snapped and fell. Fortunately most people in that area still had wood stove heat in 1998.

  3. joe dirt says

    Those big snowstorms ain’t nothing compared to the snowstorms we get once a year up here in texas

  4. Terry says

    TYPICAL AMERICAN RESPONSE!!! It seems that regardless how serious that ‘Quebec Ice Storm was, Jeremy feels that because he was also inconvienced, his was the worst!!! Jeremy, you seem to have survived it, but what about those North of your border that had it a lot worse then you did in Maine!! I am not saying you did not get hit by the same storm, but we here in Ontario and Quebec surely suffered, some without power (heat or lighting) for WEEKS!!! So quit your whinning!
    SEE BELOW… (Jeremy’s statement)
    Jeremy

    Mar 14, 2011

    They always talk about it as the Quebec Ice Storm but it hit northern Maine the worst. The rural area I grew up was without power in many places for as long as a month due to the entire power system just collapsing, literally, thousands of electric poles snapped and fell. Fortunately most people in that area still had wood stove heat in 1998

  5. Matt says

    Without the Blizzard of 77 on here, this list is a joke. 30 feet drifts that buried 2 story houses, snowmobiles ended up being banned because a guy was severely injured when he rode into the top of a chimney. Yes, I will repeat that, he was severely injured from riding into the TOP OF A CHIMNEY!! Blizzard conditions for 4 or 5 days(Jan 28th-Feb 2nd), including 25 straight hours of absolute 0 visibility, with the plows returning to the city garage after not being able to see their own plow blades. Wind chills reaching 70 below zero, and the first snowstorm to ever be declared a major federal disaster area. Snow that was packed so tightly, it broke the snow crystals and formed a concrete like substance that could not be removed by normal snowplows.

    This literally is a storm that might not happen again for another 500-1,000 years because of all the things that went into making it—the extreme cold for months on end, the 160 inches of snow by the end of January that had already fallen, the 33 inch snow depth the day the blizzard hit, the lake being frozen since December 14th—earliest on record allowing all that snow that was falling to build up on it, the temperature never going above freezing from Christmas Day until February 5th, causing all the snow to remain very loose and powdery, able to blown easily, and an extremely powerful storm system that stalled out and actually moved in reverse over the area once it had initially passed…

    Any historian of blizzards or meteorologist knows this was easily one of the most unbelievable blizzards that has ever occurred, and the pictures prove it:

    Note the pictures of the 2 story house buried in snow and the kids touching the street lights standing on a huge pile of snow.

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