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6 historic Christmastime US storms

Transportation gridlock from Texas to New York

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Holidays are probably the worst times of year for disruptive storms, if you ask just about anyone in trucking. These are six of the worst storms to hit the U.S during Christmastime, bringing transportation to a grinding halt.

Upstate New York: Dec. 25-28, 1969

December 1969 was a very snowy month for parts of the Northeast. By the 22nd, 12 inches had already fallen in some areas. Then, a storm moved up the East Coast on Christmas night, stalling off the New England coast for three days. It dumped 26.7 inches of snow in Albany, New York, making it the single snowiest December storm on record for the city. It took weeks for crews to clear some of the streets in Albany, according to the National Weather Service. December 1969 remains Albany’s snowiest month ever, and this Christmas storm also produced up to 44 inches of snow in parts of Vermont.

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Colorado: Dec. 24-25, 1982

A Denver resident digging out spots for his family’s cars, Christmas morning 1982. (Photo: Denver Post)

In 1982, a storm dumped nearly 24 inches of snow in Denver from Christmas Eve into Christmas Day. Streets were lined with snow-buried cars, and thousands of people were stranded at Stapleton International Airport on Christmas night. This storm holds Denver’s record for the most snow on the ground Christmas Day, although the bulk of the snow fell on Christmas Eve. A more recent snowstorm in 2007 holds the record for greatest snowfall on Christmas Day, at almost 8 inches.

Southeast: Dec. 22-24, 1989

A massive snowstorm struck North Carolina’s coastline in the days leading up to Christmas 1989. The system, centered just offshore, stirred up 60-mph winds and 34-foot waves, according to the NWS. Snowfall totals were around 15 inches in Wilmington and temperatures there plummeted to zero Christmas morning. The winds produced snow drifts 4 to 8 feet high along the coast.

Elsewhere, two inches of snow fell in Savannah, Georgia, while Charleston, South Carolina, picked up 3.9 inches. The storm resulted in the first white Christmas on record from northeastern Florida to North Carolina. Snow also fell in Tampa and Daytona Beach, Florida, shutting down interstates and airports. Snow and sleet were observed as far south as Sarasota and Melbourne, Florida, resulting in deadly traffic accidents due to icy conditions. This storm damaged more than a billion dollars worth of citrus crops and led to extensive power outages.

Southern Texas: Dec. 24-25, 2004

The “Great Christmas Eve Snow Storm” of 2004 blanketed southeastern Texas with accumulations ranging from 1 inch in Pasadena to 13 inches in Brazoria. Other areas receiving snow included Victoria, Texas City and Galveston Island. The storm began Christmas Eve, lasting into Christmas Day. An Arctic cold front had blasted through the area, spreading plenty of below-freezing temps across the region. The record-breaking storm resulted in the first white Christmas for some Texans.

Deep Snowfall in Victoria, Texas, on Christmas Day 2004. (Photo: William Luther/San Antonio Express News)

What made this event unusual was not just the span of cold air along the ground, but the depth of the cold air aloft. Before the heavy snow began Christmas Eve, the entire depth of the atmosphere above southeastern Texas was below freezing. Normally, when winter weather events occur in this part of the country, the depth of the cold air is much shallower, resulting in freezing rain or sleet as opposed to snow.

Plains: Dec. 23-27, 2009

The “Christmas Blizzard of 2009” raged over portions of Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska for several days, with some periods of continuous snow lasting 18 to 24 hours. Winds gusts of 30 to to 60 mph produced frequent whiteout conditions and snow drifts 3 feet high. Nearly 8 inches of snow hit the Central Nebraska Regional Airport in Grand Island on Christmas Day, which broke the previous Christmas record of 3 inches in 1941. The Hastings, Nebraska, National Weather Service office reported 9.2 inches, breaking the previous Christmas Day record of 9 inches from 1945.

The record-setting storm produced 4 to 8 inches of snow from Wichita Falls, Texas, to Oklahoma City and Stillwater, Oklahoma. The number of stalled cars littering the roads and highways made travel impossible even for vehicles better equipped for travel in the snow.

Nor’easter: Dec. 26-27, 2010

Called the “Boxing Day Blizzard of 2010” by some people, this blizzard didn’t quite create a white Christmas. However, East Coasters got their share of snow and wind the next day. More than 7,000 flights were grounded due to blinding snow and gusts of up to 60 mph. This storm was so unstable it produced thundersnow, triggered by bubbles of upward motion within cloud. Snowfall was deepest in Rahway, New Jersey, which received a whopping 32 inches.

Deep snow in Journal Square, New Jersey, Dec. 27, 2010. (Photo: Wikipedia/Public domain)

The storm ground New York City to a halt. The city’s transportation system took a beating, with passengers stranded in subway cars for up to nine hours and abandoned buses scattering the unplowed streets. Even then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg acknowledged the 911 emergency systems had been “overwhelmed” and took blame for the poor response, reported The New York Times.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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F3: Future of Freight Festival


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.