A little bit of snow is perfect for a holiday backdrop. But winter wonderlands can turn deadly when inclement weather hits a region that’s not prepared for it, or when precipitation is so continuous that it traps residents and strands them without food or supplies. When a snowstorm is extremely intense and is accompanied by strong winds for three hours or more, that’s known as a blizzard. In addition to measuring total precipitation, another way experts rank snowstorm severity is by the number of casualties sustained. Since historians have begun recording total snowfalls, the following blizzards are confirmed as the worst in history to date.
1972 Iran Blizzard
You typically don’t think of snow when you picture the country of Iran. Because the nation borders the Arabian Peninsula, most people assume that it’s a desert nation. January is their coldest month and usually sees temperatures as low as 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. But in 1972, six days in February brought unusually low temperatures and winter snow storms that resulted in more than 10 feet of snow being dumped on northwestern, central and southern Iran. Sadly, 4,000 people perished, with the two villages of Kakkan and Kumar losing all of their residents.
Carolean Death March
Anyone who’s participated in the military and served during conflict will tell you that “war is hell.” And historically, weather can play a major role in military-related casualties and can even determine who is the victor. In 1719, the Swedish military learned this lesson during their retreat from the Great Northern War. After losing much of their eastern territories in Norway to Russia, the Swedes decided to regroup and plan a new attack in Sweden. An unseasonably mild winter, combined with poor planning and a surprise storm, created the perfect trifecta for disaster. What should have been a two day march to their new target ended up taking six days and resulted in 3,000 soldiers freezing to death. Of the 2,100 who managed to survive the deadly march, 600 were left crippled for life. Today, a memorial stands along the path in memory of those lost.
2008 Afghanistan Blizzard
Once again, unless you’re well versed in geography and climatology, you might be surprised to realize that Afghanistan is yet another country that, although a desert land, does get cold. But it’s important to remember that this country is also very mountainous. And as elevation increases, the more likely there is to be snowfall. In 2008, frigid weather that was as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit and snowfall amounts as high as six feet created a deadly combination. Remote mountain villages were hit the worst, and at least 926 people died.
The Great Blizzard of 1888 (Eastern United States)
Snow in North America isn’t a surprise scenario. The northern half of the continent routinely experiences snowy precipitation anywhere from late fall through spring. But in 1888, as much as 58 inches of snow fell in parts of the Eastern U.S. and Canada’s Atlantic provinces, with sustained winds above 45 miles per hour. In reality, the storm began as a Nor’easter, and as temperatures dropped, it matured into a blizzard. The railway and telegraph lines were paralyzed, and overhead power lines often snapped under the weight of the snow. Because of this storm, many cities focused on moving transportation and communication lines underground to avoid this kind of service interruption in the future. Nine years later, Boston was the first U.S. city to begin underground subway service.
1950 Great Appalachian Storm
Snowstorms and blizzards can happen anywhere. But the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 is one of the worst blizzards in history that ranked as a Category 5 on the Regional Snowfall Index. In November of 1950, pretty much every state along the Appalachian mountains was impacted either by record low temperatures or extreme winds and precipitation. Areas on the eastern side of the mountain chain experienced heavy winds and widespread flooding. Meanwhile, the western side of the mountains faced blizzard conditions. In some states, winds reached as high as 160 miles per hour. Compared to other storms on this list, the loss of life was fairly low, at 353 people. But for its time, this storm was one of the most expensive, with insurance companies paying out record claims.
1993 Storm of the Century
Yet another super snowstorm hit North America and the greater Western Hemisphere in 1993. This time, the storm stretched as far north as Canada all the way south to Honduras. Even southern states like Alabama and Georgia reported snowfall. The storm was so wide-reaching that it created record rainfall, hurricane force winds and tornadoes in southern regions. As much as 40 percent of the U.S. was impacted by the weather, mainly in the form of power outages with 10 million homes experiencing a power loss. In total, there were 208 fatalities.
Do you remember any of these intense blizzards? Are there any recent snowstorms that you think should have made the list? Just make sure that you have a winter emergency kit in your home and car, so that you’re never caught unprepared when snowy weather strikes.