Buried

01.03.14

Hercules, Schmercules. Here Are America’s 5 Worst Blizzards

Think it’s a drag to have to shovel a foot of snow? Try the 50 inches that hit the East Coast in 1888—before the advent of snowblowers. A look at the real storms of the centuries.

As a gesture of welcome to 2014, Mother Nature threatened the stretch between the Appalachian Mountains and New England with a snowfall dump of between 5 to 14 inches, grounding thousands of flights, and crippling transportation networks across the East Coast.

But those of us stocking up on supplies and barricading our front doors should be glad we weren’t alive for the legendary Nor’easter that hit the area with 40 to 50 inches of snow in 1888. These, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are the worst storms ever to hit the U.S.

The Blizzard of 1888

This surprise blizzard had everything: massive piles of snow, freezing temperatures, 60-foot-high drifts, and painful 80-mph winds. What started as a rainstorm on March 11 turned into a deadly Nor’easter, blanketing from Chesapeake Bay to Maine and paralyzing the major cities in between—Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. More than 50 inches of snow was dumped across Connecticut and Massachusetts, and 40 throughout New York and New Jersey. When the massive snowfall subsided four days later, 400 people had been killed, including more than 100 lost at sea after 200 ships sunk off the Eastern seaboard.

The Armistice Day Storm of 1940

Unassuming Americans were caught off-guard by the intensity of this November storm after the previous day’s mild fall weather hit 60 degrees. Early the next morning, on Nov. 12, a blizzard hit, pummeling states from Minnesota to Michigan with up to 26 inches of snow and winds as high as 80 mph, which caused 20-foot drifts and knocked down hundreds of trees. All in all, 144 people were killed in the storm.

The Midwest Snowstorm of 1951

Another bizarre spring blizzard. It was four days of snowfall for Missouri and Iowa in March of 1951, where 27 inches fell in Iowa City, setting the state’s record. The excessive snowfall was due to an abundance of moisture in the storm system.

Southern Plains Snowstorm of 1956

Vega, Texas, got the brunt of this weeklong February storm, with a 43-inch snowfall. Towns in Texas and Oklahoma were covered as snow fell for almost four straight days, killing at least 18 people and hundreds of cattle in the Panhandle area. Highways were blocked off, leaving passengers waiting to be rescued by a tractor. Meanwhile, impassible roads meant feed for cows needed to be airlifted into the area.

The Panhandle Blizzard of 1957

Cattle fatalities were again devastating in the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandle one year later, when a March blizzard killed 20 percent of the region’s population. The springtime storm brought 10 to 20 inches of snow, but the real issue was the 15 to 30 feet of drifts, which made travel impossible and stranded motorists and rescue snowplows. At least 11 people were killed in the blizzard and $6 million in damage was wrought. Despite two years of massive storms, the snowfall didn’t relieve a devastating drought that had plagued the region for 10 years.