Story at a glance
- The United States has seen its fair share of heavy snowfall.
- Official and unofficial records vary, but many states have reported storms dumping feet of snow across regions.
- The snow has led to hundreds of deaths, disruption in transportation and millions of dollars in damage.
The Buffalo region of New York is bracing for its first major winter snowstorm this season, expected to bring up to four feet of snow between now and Sunday.
Data show New York state has seen 49 inches of snowfall in 24 hours alone, and images shared to Twitter show scenes of Buffalo buried in white powder.
But the pre-Thanksgiving snow dump in New York pales in comparison to Colorado, which saw an all-time record of 75.8 inches of snow in a 24-hour period during a winter storm in 1921.
Over the past 150 years or so, the U.S. has seen a slew of major snowstorms that have resulted in hundreds of deaths, destruction and lessons learned about critical infrastructure — including a theater collapse in Washington, D.C.
Official and unofficial records vary, but here are some of the most impactful snowstorms in U.S. history.
The Great Blizzard of 1888
This storm struck the Atlantic coast and was one of the deadliest in history and led to over 400 deaths. New York was hit with 22 inches of snow and other regions saw between 40 to 50 inches. The storm spread from New England to the Chesapeake Bay, and strong winds blew snow drifts 30 to 40 feet high. Damages were estimated to cost $20 million. The blizzard lasted from March 11 to March 14.
The Knickerbocker Storm of 1922
Over two feet of snow fell on Washington D.C. in late January 1922, resulting in the collapse of The Knickerbocker theater roof, an event that killed 98 people. The snow fall severely affected local rail services. The theater’s collapse led to updates to the city’s building codes, and as of January 2022, the storm held the record for the most snow ever recorded in D.C.
The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950
The Appalacians were hit with between 52 and 67 inches of snow over Thanksgiving weekend in 1950, a storm that lead to at least 160 deaths. Residents in the Ohio Valley and Northeast bore the brunt of the storm, but temperatures fell to 22 degrees Fahrenheit in Florida and 1 degree in Asheville, N.C. Winds also led to coastal flooding in New England.
California Snowfall of 1959
Over 15 ft. of snow fell on Mount Shasta, Calif., between Feb. 13 and 19, 1959. At the time, it was the largest snowfall ever recorded for one continuous storm in North America. However, there are no satellite images or atmospheric observations of the event. One study, published in 2013 found local records showed it snowed an average of 2.6 feet per day for six days.
The Chicago Blizzard of 1967
In what was reported as the city’s highest snowfall on record, Chicago saw 23 inches of snow during a storm in 1967. The blizzard struck between Jan. 26 and 27, shut down the city’s O’Hare Airport, and stranded 20,000 cars. Wind gusts were measured up to 53 miles per hour. Sixty people lost their lives in the storm and cost an estimated $150 million in damages.
The Blizzard of ‘78
In 1978, a two-day blizzard broke snowfall records in Boston, Mass., Providence, R.I., and Atlantic City, N.J. which saw 27.1, 27.6, and 20.1 inches, respectively. Drifts reached 15 ft. while tidal floods along the Massachusetts coast forced 10,000 residents into shelters. The storm was accompanied by hurricane-force winds. It’s estimated around 100 people died.
The Storm of the Century of 1993
A storm that stretched from Florida to Maine, dubbed the “Storm of the Century” led to $5.5 billion in damages. Mount LeConte, Tenn., saw 60 inches of snow and Mount Mitchell, N.C., reported 50 inches. The storm struck between March 12 and 14, and resulted in tornadoes and widespread flooding. The category 5 storm also led to closures of every major airport on the east coast.
The Great Blizzard of 2003
In February 2003, parts of Maryland were covered in 40 inches of snow, regions in West Virginia reported 37 inches and parts of New York received 2 feet. The Great Blizzard led to 20 deaths reported from Nebraska to New Jersey and over 2,000 flights were canceled. John F. Kennedy Airport saw an average snowfall of 2 inches per hour at one point.
The New York City Blizzard of 2006
On February 11, 2006 New York City was blanketed with nearly 27 inches of snow, marking a half inch more than the previous record, set in 1947. The storm shut down all major airports in the city and marked the highest snowfall ever recorded in the city’s Central Park at the time.
Snowmageddon of 2010
The Washington, D.C., region was hit with 2 major storms in February 2010. “Snowmageddon” dumped 17.8 inches of snow on the area and over 200,000 homes and businesses lost power. Dulles Airport reported 32.4 inches at the time, while Philadelphia recorded its second-heaviest snowfall at 28.5 inches. The blizzards hit on February 4-7 and 9-11 and lead to iced over roads as far away as New Mexico. A total of 41 people died.
Winter Storm Jonas of 2016
Winter Storm Jonas left up to three feet of snow in its wake when it struck the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in 2016. Around 85 million people were affected by the snow. Baltimore reported between 15 and 30 inches while Glengary, W. Va., reported 42 inches. Snow fell in regions as far south as Georgia and the Florida panhandle, and 55 people died in the storm.