The Greatest 24-Hour Snowfalls in the USA

Snow can pile up several feet in a day’s time when conditions are ripe in many U.S. states.
In fact, 48 of 50 states have received more than a foot of snow during a single 24-hour period, according to data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). Of those 50 states, 32 of them – mostly in the West, Midwest and Northeast – have had snowfalls of 30 inches or more in 24 hours.

During those extreme situations, snowfall rates are often an inch or more per hour. Thundersnow also sometimes occurs, an indication of unstable air and strong upward motion in the atmosphere, resulting in heavy snow.

States With Greatest 24-Hour Snowfall Records

Colorado leads the pack with the most extreme 24-hour snowfall record in the Lower 48 states.

If you were 6 feet tall and standing outside for 24 hours in Silver Lake, Colorado, April 14-15, 1921, you would’ve been buried by snow from head to toe. That location saw 6.3 feet (75.8 inches) of snow high in the Rockies at an elevation of 10,220 feet.

One location in Alaska, however, takes the crown for all 50 states.

Tucked away in the mountains northeast of Valdez, Alaska, is Mile 47 Camp, which was buried by 78 inches of snow in the 24 hours ending Feb. 9, 1963. Here, winter storms in the Gulf of Alaska send moisture from the Pacific into the mountainous terrain, making it an ideal spot for incredible snowfall totals.

Three other states have had 24-hour snowfalls exceeding 50 inches, and much like the top two locations, mountainous terrain also played a role in squeezing out those extreme totals.

Those states are California (67 inches in the Sierra Nevada), Washington (65 inches in the Cascades) and South Dakota (52 inches in the Black Hills).

Recent 24-Hour Snowfall Records Broken

Five U.S. states have set new 24-hour snowfall records during the past 10 years.

Connecticut is the most recent state to rewrite the record books when a location near Ansonia saw 36 inches Feb. 8-9, 2013. That new benchmark for the state was set during Winter Storm Nemo, which also hammered several other New England states with more than a foot of snow.

About two years earlier, Oklahoma set a new 24-hour snowfall record when 27 inches piled up in Spavinaw Feb. 9-10, 2011.

A single spring blizzard in March 2009 propelled two states to new 24-hour records. Pratt, Kansas, and Follett, Texas, made state history with 30 inches and 25 inches of snow, respectively, in the 24 hours ending March 28, 2009.

The fifth state to set a new record in the last decade is Nebraska, where 27 inches was measured near Dalton in the 24-hours ending Dec. 21, 2006.

The Buffalo Blizzard of 1977 that dumped up to 100inches of snow!

The blizzard of 1977 was a deadly blizzard that hit the western areas of upstate New York as well as Southern Ontario from January 28 to February 1, 1977.

Daily peak wind gusts ranging from 46 to 69 mph (74 to 111 km/h) were recorded by the National Weather Service in Buffalo, with snowfall as high as 100 in (254 cm) recorded in areas, and the high winds blew this into drifts of 30 to 40 ft (9 to 12 m). There were 23 total storm-related deaths in western New York, with five more in northern New York.

Certain pre-existing weather conditions exacerbated the blizzard’s effects. November, December and January average temperatures were much below normal. Lake Erie froze over by December 14; an ice-covered Lake Erie usually puts an end to lake-effect snow because the wind cannot pick up moisture from the lake’s surface, convert the moisture to snow and then dump it when the winds reach shore.

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Lake Erie was covered by a deep, powdery snow; January’s unusually cold conditions limited the usual thawing and refreezing, so the snow on the frozen lake remained powdery. The drifted snow on roadways was difficult to clear because the strong wind packed the snow solidly. In addition to the roads becoming impassable, motorists had to deal with vehicles breaking down due to the combination of very cold temperatures, very high winds and blowing snow.

In the hardest-struck areas, snowmobiles became the only viable method of transportation. In western New York and southern Ontario, snow which was accumulated on frozen Lake Erie and snow on the ground at the start of the blizzard provided ample material for the high winds to blow into huge drifts – see ground blizzard. The combination of bitter cold, high winds, and blowing snow paralyzed areas affected by the storm. Lake Ontario rarely freezes over, which meant northern New York had to deal with considerable lake effect snow, which, when coupled with the existing snow cover and wind, created paralysis.

The harsh Winter of 1946–47 in the United Kingdom

The winter of 1946–1947 was a harsh European winter noted for its effects in the United Kingdom, where it was the coldest winter in three centuries.

It caused severe hardships in terms of the economy, and living conditions, and gave the Conservative Party leverage to attack the Labour Party in power. There were massive disruptions of the energy supply for homes, offices and factories. Animal herds froze or starved to death. No one could keep warm, and many businesses shut down temporarily. When warm weather returned, the ice thawed and flooding was severe for most low-lying areas.

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Beginning on 21 January 1947, the UK experienced several cold spells that brought large drifts of snow to the country, blocking roads and railways. It was harder and harder to bring coal to the electric power stations. Many had to shut down, forcing severe restrictions to cut power consumption, including restricting domestic electricity to 19 hours per day and cutting industrial supplies completely.

In addition, radio broadcasts were limited, television services were suspended, some magazines were ordered to stop being published and newspapers were cut in size. These measures badly affected public morale and turned the Minister of Fuel and Power, Emanuel Shinwell, into a scapegoat; he received death threats and had to be placed under police guard. Towards the end of February there were also fears of a food shortage as supplies were cut off and vegetables were frozen into the ground.

Mid-March brought warmer air to the country which thawed the snow lying on the ground. This snowmelt ran off the frozen ground straight into rivers and caused widespread flooding. More than 100,000 properties were affected and the British Army and foreign aid agencies were forced to provide humanitarian aid.

With the cold weather over and the ground thawing there were no further weather problems. The winter had severe effects on British industries, causing the loss of around 10 per cent of the year’s industrial production, 10 to 20 per cent of cereal and potato crops and a quarter of sheep stocks. The ruling Labour Party began to lose popularity, which led to their losing many seats to the Conservative Party in the 1950 election. That winter is also cited as a factor in the devaluation of the pound from $4.03 to $2.80, Britain’s decline from superpower status and the introduction of the Marshall Plan to aid war-torn Europe. The effects on the rest of Europe were also severe, with 150 deaths from cold and famine in Berlin, civil disorder in the Netherlands and business closures in the Republic of Ireland.

The deadly US Snowfall of 2016!

From January 22 through 24, 2016, a major blizzard produced up to 3 ft (91 cm) of snow in parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast United States.

Evolving from a shortwave trough, the system consolidated into a defined low-pressure area on January 21 over Texas. Regarding it as a “potentially historic blizzard”, meteorologists indicated the storm could produce more than 2 ft (61 cm) of snow across a wide swath of the Mid-Atlantic region and could “paralyze the eastern third of the nation”. Winter weather expert Paul Kocin described the blizzard as “kind of a top-10 snowstorm”.

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On January 20–22, the governors of eleven states and the mayor of Washington, D.C. declared a state of emergency in anticipation of significant snowfall and blizzard conditions. Approximately 103 million people were affected by the storm, with 33 million people under blizzard warnings. More than 13,000 flights were cancelled in relation to the storm, with effects rippling internationally.

Thousands of National Guardsmen were placed on standby and states deployed millions of gallons of brine and thousands of tons of road salt to lessen the storm’s effect on roadways. A travel ban was instituted for New York City and Newark, New Jersey for January 23–24. The storm was given various unofficial names, including Winter Storm Jonas and Snowzilla.

Seven states observed snowfall in excess of 30 in (76 cm), with accumulations peaking at 66 in (170 cm) on Mount Mitchell, North Carolina. Ice- and snow-covered roads led to hundreds of accidents across the affected region, several of which resulted in deaths and injuries. At least 55 people were killed in storm-related incidents: 12 in Virginia, 9 in Pennsylvania, 6 in New Jersey, 6 in New York, 6 in North Carolina, 4 in South Carolina, 3 in Maryland, 3 in Washington, D.C., 1 in Arkansas, 1 in Delaware, 1 in Georgia, 1 in Kentucky, 1 in Massachusetts, and 1 in Ohio.

Total economic losses are estimated between $500 million and $3 billion. The storm ranked as a Category 5 “extreme” event for the Northeast on the Regional Snowfall Index, and a Category 4 for the Southeast. It is the most recent winter storm to rank as a Category 5, and the first to do so since the 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard.

Scientists give their view on the severe winter of 2009/10

Scientists have shown that a severe snowfall in North America and Northern Europe in the winter of 2009-10 was caused by a rare, once-in-a-century, collision of two weather systems.

They concluded the harsh winter and heavy snow was an example of hard to predict weather events, not a change in climate.

They analysed historical snow records.

The research was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

In the winter of 2009-10 much of Northern Europe experienced heavy snow and temperatures were at the lowest they had been for nearly 30 years. At the same time, record snowfall hit Washington DC and other parts of America’s “Mid-Atlantic states”.

Some news reports took the extreme cold weather as evidence against climate change.

By analysing 60 years of snowfall measurements and satellite data, researchers concluded the anomalous weather conditions were caused by an unusual combination of an El Nino event and the rare occurrence of a strongly negative North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO).

El Nino events result from a periodic warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean coupled with changes in the atmosphere. El Ninos move storm systems in the Northern Hemisphere towards the equator. They occur every few years and can be predicted up to a few seasons in advance.

The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is climatic phenomenon resulting from shifts in atmospheric pressure between two regions above the North Atlantic Ocean. Large changes can only be forecast a week or two weeks in advance.

When the NAO enters a strongly negative phase, cold air repeatedly comes down from the Arctic. This affects eastern North America, and Western Europe.

Satellite image showing snow-covered United Kingdom in January 2010
Image captionSnow that covered most of the UK was caused by a rare weather system bringing down cold air from the Arctic

Richard Seager, a meteorologist with the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in the US, is one of the lead authors of the paper.

“The NAO was probably as negative as it’s ever been in the instrumental record, which goes back to the early 1800s. This was a once-in-a-century type of event,” he told BBC News.

It was this combined with the El Nino event that caused the severe snowfall in North America.

“The NAO on its own doesn’t cause much precipitation in America. It just makes it cold. The El Nino makes the US wetter than normal so combined with the NAO it caused the precipitation in America to fall as snow,” he told BBC News.

The researchers also believe it is unlikely this combination will occur in the near future. Data from tree rings have shown that these same conditions caused by the same combination of weather systems happened over 200 years ago in the winter of 1783-84 in Northern Europe and North America.

Many people have concluded the extreme winter in 1783-84 was caused by the eruption of an Icelandic volcano. But the researchers believe it was caused by the same combination of weather events that caused last year’s harsh winter.

Richard Seager also believes the research is a counter to suggestions that the cold winter is evidence against climate change.

“Weather will continue to be weather. You have to average over a lot of weather to get the climate trends. There doesn’t seem to be any need to evoke anything else other than that,” he told BBC News.