Below are a few of the worst storms in recorded U.S. history that began on or just after the start of a new year.
Great Plains blizzard: 1949
The Blizzard of 1949 paralyzed the Great Plains for months, making it one of the worst winter storms in the region’s history. The first storm raged from Jan. 2-5, producing heavy snowfall, strong winds and bitter cold. Subsequent storms through mid-February produced insurmountable snowdrifts that stranded entire towns. Many roads and railroads were shut down, so airplanes had to drop food and medical supplies into isolated areas.
Wind gusts exceeded 70 mph in some spots, and January 1949 became the snowiest January on record for many observing stations in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. Totals topped 40 inches in some spots.
President Harry Truman declared the region a disaster zone. The initial storm killed around 40 people across Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming, and it killed more than 150,000 cattle and sheep.
East Coast nor’easter: 1996
This storm was a severe nor’easter that bombarded the East Coast with three days of heavy, wet snow in early January. Washington, D.C., and parts of Maryland were slammed with up to 25 inches of snowfall Jan. 6-8, while the mountains of Maryland and West Virginia received up to 48 inches. Philadelphia received 30 inches of snowfall, making this the worst snowstorm in the city’s history.
Deep snow in Baltimore after a severe nor’easter in January 1996. (Photo: Robert Shawver)
Despite people often calling it the “Blizzard of 1996,” only two observing sites in the region — Trenton-Mercer Airport (ICAO code: TTN) and Morristown Municipal Airport (ICAO code: MMU), both in New Jersey — recorded true blizzard conditions, according to the National Weather Service definition. The highest gust was 63 mph, recorded at Morristown.
The storm killed 154 people across the region. Not long after the storm ended, temperatures increased quickly. The vast amounts of snow melted, resulting in significant flooding.
North American ice storm: 1998
Also known as the Great Ice Storm of 1998, it was actually a massive combination of five small, successive ice storms Jan. 4-10. They struck a swath of land from eastern Ontario to southern Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in Canada, as well as bordering areas from northern New York to central Maine. Ice buildup was 3 inches thick in some areas.
Power outages lasted several weeks for millions of people. The bridges and tunnels linking downtown Montreal with the city’s suburban South Shore were closed due to concerns about weight tolerances, as well as ice chunks falling from the superstructures. All but one power linkage to the island of Montreal were down for several days, disabling both of the city’s water pumping stations The ice storm led to the largest deployment of Canadian military personnel since the Korean War.
Adjusted for inflation, the storm caused $2.2 billion in damage in the U.S., including flood damage that it produced in Southern states.
Double-barreled nor’easters: 2002-2003
Unprecedented back-to-back snowstorms from late 2002 to early 2003 buried parts of the Northeast during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Each storm produced more than 20 inches of snow in many places, including Albany, New York.
The Christmas storm produced 21 inches of snowfall in Albany, while portions of western New England were hit with up to 16 inches. Blowing snow and whiteout conditions led to a shutdown of the New York State Thruway (Interstate 90) from Catskill to Syracuse — a stretch of 175 miles. Many people were stranded in Albany International Airport (ICAO code: ALB) on Christmas night as flights were canceled.
The second storm, Jan. 3-4, also dumped nearly 21 inches of snowfall in Albany. It was the first time since 1887-1888 that two storms of more than 20 inches each were recorded at Albany during the same winter. The second snowstorm combined with ice leftover from freezing rain on Jan. 1-2, bringing down trees and knocking out power in many areas.