Snowfall can turn Christmastime into the magical, winter holiday many people typically hope for — even truckers. But for drivers working through the holiday who get stuck in blizzard-like conditions, Christmas can become a nightmare. These are just a few of the worst snowstorms in our nation’s recorded history that have brought transportation to a screeching halt.
New York City: Dec. 26, 1947
Similar to the Great Blizzard of 1888, the blizzard of 1947 was an unexpected storm. It wreaked havoc on the post-holiday calm that had settled over the Big Apple. The weather bureau predicted cloudiness and cold winds throughout the day, but little mention was made of snow.
East 52nd Street in New York City, Dec. 26, 1947. (Photo: Robert M. Lester Photograph Collection)
On Dec. 26, flakes began falling unexpectedly, and within the next 24 hours the city was covered by 26.4 inches of the white stuff. Snowfall rates were up to 3 inches per hour at times. The blizzard of 1888 had a more powerful impact regarding winds and frigid temperatures, but the sheer amount of snowfall puts the storm of 1947 among the strongest to ever hit New York.
The city’s transportation systems were devastated. Cars and buses were stranded in the streets, and trains were delayed for up to 12 hours. It was difficult delivering crucial supplies to people and local businesses. The storm killed an estimated 77 people, but the death toll may have been higher if temperatures had been much colder and winds more severe. This snowstorm caused several millions of dollars in damages.
Upstate New York-New England: Dec. 25-28, 1969
The Northeast saw tons of snow in the winter of 1969. On Dec. 22, 12 inches of snow fell in some areas, but this would be outdone by a storm heading toward the region Christmas night. On the morning of Dec. 27 — with 15 inches already on the ground in many places, including Albany, New York — the storm stalled off the New England coast.
It then began to move inland for a short period of time before heading back into the Atlantic on Dec. 28. A total of 26.7 inches of snow fell in Albany, making it the city’s greatest snowfall for a December storm, as well as its snowiest month ever (57.5 inches). In addition, the coldest December temperature in Albany was recorded — 22 below zero.
Vermont surpassed that, with 30 inches at Burlington and 44 inches at Waitsfield, southwest of the capital, Montpelier. It was a heavy, wet snowfall, and it mixed with freezing rain at times. Snow removal became quite difficult, and some streets were not cleared for three to four weeks.
Denver: Dec. 24-25, 1982
A two-day storm from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day dumped nearly 24 inches of snowfall in Denver. Most of it was Christmas Eve. Streets were lined with cars buried in mounds of snow. Thousands of people were stranded at the Stapleton International Airport (ICAO code: DEN) on Christmas night. Most airlines chose to cancel all Christmas flights, despite efforts to open a runway by dusk.
A Denver resident digging out spots for his family’s cars, Christmas morning 1982. (Photo: Denver Post)
High winds whipped the snow into huge drifts, covering homes and cars. Most people were safe at home, with lots of schools and businesses closed. Those who had last-minute holiday shopping to do were out of luck, however, stranded for days before they could go anywhere.
The 1982 blizzard holds Denver’s record for the most snow ever recorded on the ground on Christmas Day. However, a more recent snowstorm in 2007 holds the record for greatest snowfall on Christmas Day, at nearly 8 inches.
North Carolina: Dec. 22-24, 1989
A massive snowstorm slammed North Carolina’s coastline back in 1989. The offshore storm system produced 60-mph winds and waves 34 feet high in the near-shore waters, according to the weather service. Winds created snow drifts 4 to 8 feet high along the coast. Wilmington got around 15 inches of snowfall, and temperatures plummeted to zero on Christmas morning, an all-time record low for the city. It was the first white Christmas on record for the area, but, unfortunately, many people died in traffic accidents on icy roads.