Winter has arrived early for many Canadians, with parts of the country receiving record early snowfalls and cold temperatures. Many outdoor explorers are excited about it, unpacking their snowshoes and hot tents. Others are trying to ignore it and refuse to store their canoes and kayaks. A few people believe it’s a sign of Armageddon.
To put the doomsday followers at ease, I thought I’d make a list of past winter storms to show this isn’t necessarily true. Not that I don’t believe in climate change—I definitely think we’ve messed up the planet with that one. But winter oddities have happened before.
1300 to 1850: The Little Ice Age brought frigid temperatures to Europe and North America, and the Baltic Sea froze over.
February to March 1717: A series of four storms hit New England, adding up to nine feet of snow (three metres), with drifts reportedly reaching 25 feet (7.6 metres). Roads between New York and Boston were blocked for weeks.
Winter of 1816: It was called "The Year Without a Summer," since winter seemed to never end across North America and Europe. A foot of snow dropped on Vermont in June. Salem, Massachusetts, had recorded 74-degree weather one April day… and then 21 degrees a mere 36 hours later. The culprit was the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. Volcanic ash in the atmosphere greatly affected the earth’s climate. There was famine and death. The gloomy weather pattern inspired Mary Shelley to write “Frankenstein.”
Winter of 1857 was one of the coldest and caused the East River in New York city to freeze straight across, creating an ice bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The 1886 Great Blizzard in Kansas killed over 100 settlers and resulted in the largest loss of livestock ever in the western plains. After the storm, it was recorded that one could walk 400 miles from Ellsworth to Denver on cattle carcasses.
In March 1888, four feet of snow fell in Connecticut and Massachusetts and three and half feet New York and New Jersey. 200 ships sank during the storm and 400 people were killed.
1912 is the coldest winter season ever recorded in Toronto, Canada. Extreme temperatures—the worst recorded in the last 119 years—caused Lake Ontario to completely freeze over with a metre of ice. (The lake generally stays ice-free through even the coldest of winters.)
The “White Hurricane” of 1913 was the worst winter storm to ever hit the Great Lakes. Thirty-five-foot waves were recorded on Lake Ontario, more than 200 people died and eight ships sunk a result of the storm. It was declared as “one of the deadliest maritime weather disasters in North American History.”
On January 27, 1922, the Knickerbocker Storm hit Washington D.C. and dropped 28 inches of snow (the most the capital had ever had during one storm). On the evening of the 28th, some city folk celebrated the end of the storm by going to see a silent film at the Knickerbocker Theater in Adams Morgan. The weight of the snow collected on the roof of the theatre forced it to collapse, killing 98 people and injuring 133.
The Winter of 1937-38 still claims the title of snowiest season on record for Ontario, Canada. More than two metres of snow—207.4 centimetres to be precise—dropped on the province.
The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 is recorded as one of the most “meteorologically unique" storms, being part-blizzard and part-hurricane. 110-mile-per-hour winds and frigid temperatures hit the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina on November 24, killing 353 people and injuring over 150 others.
March 4, 1971: Montreal, Canada’s worst recorded storm brought 47 centimetres of snow and winds of up to 110 kilometres per hour. Seventeen people died and 500,000 truckloads of snow were hauled out of the city.
January 1978: A New England blizzard gave New York City a total between one and three feet (30.5 and 91.4 centimetres) of snow, with wind measuring well over 100 miles per hour (161 kilometres per hour). More than 100 people died.
March 1993: The “Storm of the Century” formed over the Gulf of Mexico and dropped snow that created 35-foot drifts and hurricane-force winds reaching 120 miles per hour (193 kilometres per hour) across 26 states in America.
The Blizzard of 1996 was one of the most infamous storms in US. Over four feet of snow dropped on New York and the rest of the East Coast. Philadelphia accumulated 30.7 inches of snow, which still stands as its record to date. The storm killed 154 people, many of whom died due to “over-exertion” from shoveling snow.
January 1998: A major ice storm struck Ontario and Quebec, Canada. Approximately 100 millimetres of ice accumulated in five days of freezing rain. It cost $3 billion to clean up after the storm.
January 14-15, 1999: Toronto, Canada called in the army to help deal with a snowstorm that dropped over a meter of snow.
February 18-19, 2004: A storm nicknamed "White Juan" dumped 50 to 70 centimetres of snow on Nova Scotia, Canada; winds reached 80 kilometres per hour.
During Winter 2008, 194 centimetres of snow fell on Toronto, Canada—just 13 centimetres shy of the record.
February 2010: Snowmageddon was two back-to-back blizzards hitting the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. Twenty-five to thirty inches of snow fell from Virginia to New York. Forty-one people were killed.
The Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011 was recorded as the most far-reaching storm, sweeping from Mexico to Canada. From January 31 to February 2, 40 inches of snow dropped. There were blizzards, tornadoes and rare thundersnow.
February 2012: Temperatures in Europe dropped to minus 38.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 39.2 Celsius) along with record snow fall, causing 824 deaths.
The Winter of 2013-14 was recorded as one of the worst for Toronto, Canada. It started with a crippling ice storm and then continued with one of the coldest in the last quarter century.
Winter Storm Jonas of 2016 (also known as "Snowzilla") impacted the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast United States with over three feet of snow from January 22 to 24. The National Guard was called in to deal with the mass power outages, which created an estimated $500 million to $3 billion in economic loss.
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