Memorable Winter Storms

There have been plenty of winter storms over the past 20 years – some are etched in our memories forever.  Along with huge amounts of ice, snow or rain, winter storms can bring flooding, hurricane-force winds, power outages and major travel issues.  Of course, they can also bring a little fun in the form of sledding, snowman building and snowball fights.

Below, learn more about five memorable winter storms that have impacted the United States over the past 20 years and find tips to stay safe during winter weather:

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Snowstorm of 2011 (January 9-13, 2011)

During the week of January 9-13, 2011, the United States received one of the most widespread winter storms ever.  It was the first major storm of 2011 and was accompanied by snow, freezing rain and ice.  Parts of Texas received over six inches of snow, while Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee received over 10 inches of snow.  The Northeast seemed to get hit hardest with areas that received 10-30 inches of snow, including Bradley International Airport in Connecticut, which received 24 inches.  The storm caused significant travel and power outage issues. At the end of the event, all states except Florida had some snow cover.

Viewer Tip: The weight of snow can vary considerably depending on whether it’s powdery of wet. Light, fluffy snow may only weigh about five to seven pounds per cubic foot, whereas wetter snow may weigh 15 pounds per cubic foot. Drifted or compacted snow can weigh 20 pounds or more. Heart attacks and exhaustion are one of the leading causes of winter storm-related deaths.  If you head outside to clear snow, protect your health with these tips:

  • Dress in warm layers and take it slow.
  • Stretch for a few minutes beforehand and stop working if you start to feel weak or tired.
  • Individuals with heart disease or high blood pressure should seek their doctor’s advice about shoveling snow.

Image courtesy of NOAA NCDC.

Hanukkah Eve Wind Storm (December 14-15, 2006)

The Pacific Northwest is no stranger to low pressure systems that impact the area each fall and winter.  One particular storm left a not-so-good impression.  A wind storm produced from a low pressure cyclone swept through the Pacific Northwest (mostly Oregon and Washington) from December 14-15, 2006.  Hurricane force winds with gusts over 100 miles per hour and heavy rainfall pounded the region.  After the storm passed, it left over 1.8 million residences and businesses without power in the state of Washington.

Viewer Tip: Strong winds can happen anywhere and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Protect your home and property from wind damage with these tips:

  • Bring backyard items, like patio furniture, garbage cans and children’s toys, inside when high winds are in the forecast.
  • Keep trees and shrubs trimmed.  Remove dead, diseased or damaged branches.
  • If you live in an area that frequently experiences high winds, consider replacing rock and gravel landscaping with shredded materials, like wood mulch.

Northern California Flooding (December 29, 1996 – January 4, 1997)

Before the rain hit from late 1996 to early 1997, rainfall amounts in California were near average.  A series of storms brought heavy and warm precipitation during the week of December 29, 1996 through January 4, 1997 – up to 24 inches of rain fell on some areas.  Since temperatures were above freezing, rain fell on top of snow and saturated soils, causing rapid runoff and widespread flooding.  Major rivers and communities lying between the San Joaquin River (just north of Fresno, CA) and the Pit River (near Redding, CA) saw significant flood damage.  At the time, it was the most expensive flood damage in the state’s history.  Disaster areas were declared in over 80 percent of California’s counties.

Viewer Tip: Flooding can happen quickly and without warning. If there is flooding where you live, remember these tips:

  • Flooded roads and washed-out bridges are dangerous. Keep track of road conditions through your local television or radio and do not drive unless absolutely necessary.
  • Remember “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.” It takes only six inches of moving water to knock a person off their feet.  Most cars can be swept away in just 18-24 inches of water.
  • If you must drive, respect “road closed” barriers and warning signs.  Be especially careful at night when it may harder to see flood waters on roads.

December 2007 Ice Storm (December 8-11, 2007)

A slow moving ice storm passed through the Southern Plains in early December 2007.  Some of the states hit hardest were Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.  Temperatures stayed in upper 20s and low 30s near ground level thanks to a Canadian high pressure system.  With very cold temperatures near the Earth’s surface and a warm layer of air above, precipitation fell in the form of freezing rain and ice rapidly accumulated on many surfaces, including trees and power lines.  Up to 1.5 inches of ice were reported in areas of Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.  Ice took down trees and power lines, leaving 600,000 homes and businesses without power.

Viewer Tip: Ice storms can cause significant damage, including downed trees, downed power lines and related power outages.  Follow these tips to stay safe and deice smartly:

  • Stay away from hanging or downed power lines, as they may still be energized.  Watch for downed trees, which may be hiding energized power lines underneath them.
  • If your home or apartment has no power, close off unneeded rooms to stay as warm as possible. Cover windows at night to keep heat inside.
  • Before using salt to clear ice off driveways or walkways, clear away as much snow and ice as possible.
  • Read the label, use salt sparingly and keep salt away from sensitive plants.

Image courtesy of NOAA NWS.

Snowmageddon (February 5-6, 2010)

As a new decade started, a “storm for the ages” left huge amounts of snow across the Mid-Atlantic states.  A snowstorm that originated in the southwest United States traveled eastward, gathering moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic.  Eventually named Snowmageddon, the storm hit Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia with more than 30 inches of snow.  Washington, D.C. received over 17 inches in a two-day span which ranked as the city’s fourth highest total storm amount in history.  The storm caused transportation in Maryland and Virginia to come to a halt and closed government offices, schools and airports.

Viewer Tip: Roof collapses from heavy snow were reported during Snowmaggedon.  A roof with an area of 1,000 square feet could take on as much as 5,000 to 20,000 pounds of extra weight from snow, which can cause damage or collapse.  If you attempt to clear the snow off of a roof, stay safe with these tips:

  • If the roof is too high or too risky to attempt clearing yourself, call in a professional for help.
  • Use a long-handled snow rake or pole to loosen snow if the roof is within reach from the ground.  Be careful not to make contact with nearby power lines.
  • Be careful when using ladders – rungs can become cold and slippery.  If you must use a ladder, make sure the base is secure and you have someone holding the ladder and spotting you.
  • Before scraping snow off the roof, make sure you know which direction it is going to fall.
  • Watch for and steer clear of large icicles that may fall from the edge of the roof.

Image courtesy of NOAA.


Hanukkah Eve Wind Storm: Institute for Business and Home Safety. “High Winds: Surroundings – Protect Your Yard.”; WA Emergency Management Division, “Windstorms in Washington State,”; NASA Earth Observatory, “Powerful Windstorm in the Pacific Northwest,”

New Year’s Day California Flooding: The American Red Cross and National Disaster Coalition. “Repairing Your Flooded Home.”,1082,0_570_,00.html; “Hurricanes,”; USGS, “Floods in Northern California, January 1997,”

Snowstorm of 2011: North Dakota State University Cooperative Extension. “Winter Storm Information: Your Roof Should Be Built to Handle Normal Snow Load.”; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Environmental Health. “Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Protect Your Personal Health and Safety.”; North Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Service; NOAA National Weather Service; National Climatic Data Center, “State of the Climate: National Snow & Ice January 2011,”; Image: NCDC

Southern Plains Ice Storm: Energy Education Council, “Tips to Staying Safe and Warm During Ice Storm Recovery.”; National Weather Service, “Dec 9-10, 2007 Ice Storm Summary,”, “Information for the December 2007 Ice Storm,”, “December 10-11, 2007 Ice Storm,”,2007icestorm; Image: National Weather Service

Snowmageddon: University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, “Greenhouse Structures,”; Town of Westborough Massachusetts, “Public Safety Advisory on Potential Roof Collapses: Dangers Associated with Heavy Snow Loads on Roofs,”; National Climatic Data Center, “State of the Climate: National Snow & Ice February 2010,”; Image: NOAA

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