Worst Winters than the Current U.S. Winter

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 28th, 2014

History 101

The 1993 Storm of the Century killed some 318 People

If you live in the Northern Plains, the Midwest or the Northeast you’re probably thinking about one thing.  Spring.  Having had enough of snow and cold.  Alberta clippers.  Polar vortexes.  Nor’easters.  Enough.  Some people have already shoveled more snow in January than they did all of last winter.  Feeling that this winter was the worst winter ever.  But is it?  No.

The 1993 Storm of the Century is the only storm that I literally ran away from.  Or, rather, drove away from.  I was in New York State at the beginning of the snowfall heading to some New England ski resorts in March.  The forecast was not good for the drive ahead.  So we raced north.  To get above this monster that dumped some 4 feet of snow where we were and were about to drive through.  And skied at Mont-Tremblant north of Montréal for a day.  Then headed east.  On the drive from Montréal to Québec City for a day of skiing at Mont-Sainte-Anne there was drifting snow and whiteout conditions on the Quebec Autoroute 40 freeway.  It took about 8 hours to travel what normally took 4.  High winds buffeted the car.  And snow drifts crept in from the shoulder.  Covering icy roads.  The drive was stressful to say the least.  And we had skirted north of the worst of this storm.  Which reached as far south as Central America.  With hurricane storm surges, tornadoes and arctic temperatures killing some 318 people.

Before the 1993 Storm of the Century people in the Northeast called the Northeastern blizzard of 1978 the storm of the century.  Some still do.  This was an extra-tropical cyclone that blew up the east coast and crashed into an arctic cold front in February.  Hurricane-force winds, heavy snow and rain and a storm surge pounded the Northeast.  Snow fell for 33 hours straight.  Then turned to an icy-snow mix.  Putting a layer of ice over some 2 feet of snow.  And weighing down tree branches and power lines.  Which fell under the weight of this ice.  Adding power outages on top of everything else.  By the time it was over approximately 100 people were dead.  With close to $2 billion (in current dollars) in damages left in its wake.  Making the Northeastern blizzard of 1978 a close second to that other storm of the century.

The Great Blizzard of 1888 produced Snowfalls between 2 and 5 Feet

The Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940 was a 1,000 mile wide winter storm from Kansas to Michigan in November.  Temperatures plummeted and winds grew.  Then came rain then sleet then snow.  As a low pressure system from the south crashed into a cold arctic air mass creating blizzard conditions.  Over 2 feet of snow fell and the howling winds blew that snow into 20 foot snow drifts.  By the time this storm was over it killed approximately 154 people.  Including 66 sailors lost when three Great Lake freighters sank in the storm.  And duck hunters who got trapped unaware in the approaching storm.  Who were swamped by 5-foot waves washing over islands in the Mississippi River.  Then froze to death in single-digit temperatures and 50 mph winds.

A November witch in 1975 claimed the bulk ore carrier S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald and all of her crew.  But the November witch of 1913 was even worse.  The Great Lakes Storm of 1913 was a blizzard with hurricane-force winds.  Dry cold air moved down from Alberta, Canada, while warm moist warm air from the Gulf of Mexico moved up.  These two systems met over the Great Lakes and started to spin around each other.  Growing to hurricane-force winds.  Which created waves over 30 feet high.  Hammering coastal areas.  While dumping up to 2 feet of snow in its path.  The worst of the storm was on the lakes.  Claiming 12 ships.  And 258 souls.

The Great Blizzard of 1888 was another nor’easter hitting New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in March.  This blizzard produced snowfalls between 2 and 5 feet.  And its 45 mph winds produced snowdrifts in excess of 50 feet.  The storm paralyzed cities.  And trapped people in their houses for up to a week.  Even the firemen.  Causing fires to burn out of control.  Until they burned themselves out.  The snow soon began to melt.  Causing severe flooding.  By the time it was over the storm claimed more than 400 lives.

We warmed up from the Little Ice Age without Centuries of Carbon Emissions

Everyone knows of that terrible winter at Valley Forge (1777–1778).  Where the Continental Army persevered and left Valley Forge a stronger and more disciplined army.  Thanks to Baron Von Steuben.  But the Winter in Morristown in 1780 is largely forgotten to history.  Why?  Because that winter was worse.  And the men were shamefully neglected more.  The Revolutionary War was fought during the Little Ice Age.  A period of global cooling from about 1350 to about 1850.  Making for some fierce winters.  Like in 1780.  When it was so cold that coastal seawater froze.  Including New York Harbor.  People rode in horse drawn sleighs across the ice between Manhattan and New Jersey.  In Morristown, New Jersey, a winter storm hit the army so hard that it blew tents away and buried men in snow.  Heavy snowfalls made it impossible to supply the army.  Even if the impoverished Continental Congress could.  The starvation and exposure to the elements and their abandonment by the people they were fighting for caused something to happen in Morristown that didn’t happen at Valley Forge.  Mutiny.  Lucky for the nation a delivery of food diffused the mutiny.

The Great Snow of 1717 was a nor’easter that blew in on March 1.  Then another one on March 4th.  And yet another one on March 7th.  In all some 3-5 feet of snow fell.  With drifts as deep as 20 feet.  Burying one-story homes past their chimneys.  While people with 2-story homes entered and left their homes via the second floor.  Livestock died from starvation.  Froze to death.  Or were buried alive in the snow.  Even the deer in the area were nearly wiped out.

So, no, the current winter is not the worst winter ever.  And, no, the current brutal winter is not the result of global warming.  Just as mild winters are not the result of global warming.  For we’ve had both going back through time all the way back to the onset of the Industrial Revolution.  And before.  Even before smoke from burning coal filled the air.  And internal combustion engines filled our roads.  We warmed up from the Little Ice Age without centuries of carbon emissions.  Yet even with that warming we’ve still had storms of the century.  Alberta clippers.  Polar vortexes.  And nor’easters.

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