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3 June 2016

Five of the Worst Snowstorms in History

In the UK, we tend to exaggerate the severity of our snow. A few inches come down and some people act like all hell has broken loose. In reality, we know nothing. Elsewhere in the world, snowstorms can be massive, and devastating, caking everything in inches upon inches of the stuff.

The list of big, ruinous snowstorms is long, going back to when records began. These are five of the absolute worst.

The 1971 Eastern Canadian Blizzard – Quebec, Ontario

Powerful Atlantic storms are often referred to as a March nor’easter, and this was one of the nastiest ones ever to make landfall. When it hit eastern Canada it unloaded 45.7cm on snow on Montreal, and a further 61cm elsewhere.

The worst thing, though? The winds gusts were so powerful that they caused over $1 million in damage and laid claim to the lives of 30 people. In the aftermath, people found that snowdrifts over two stories high had been formed in some places. Montreal was put in a position of almost complete standstill for a few days afterwards. A hockey game even got called off, which hadn’t happened there since 1918, and that was because of a flu epidemic.

The 2008 Lhunze County Blizzard – Tibet

Being the mountainous region that it is, Tibet has gained a reputation for extreme cold, but the peaks tend to keep bigger snowstorms at bay. That’s what makes the 2008 blizzard so worthy of note; it actually fought its way past the Himalayas.

Reportedly there was an average of 1.5 metres of snow by the time it was over, 36 hours after it first started. The snow was so devastatingly heavy that it actually brought a few buildings down.  Officially there was 7 casualties, but with the amount of people who were cut off from food and power supplies, it could well have been more. Some farmers lost entire herds of yak and cattle in the chaos, while others were forced to sell theirs off afterwards just to stay afloat.

The Buffalo Blizzard of 1977 – New York

If you’re looking purely in terms of the sheer volume of snow deposited, this was a doozy. All told, it dumped 5.06 metres of snow on Buffalo. Add to that wind speeds of up to 45mph and you have all the ingredients for a Class 3 killstorm. The real trouble came from the fact that the ground was already covered with packed snow and the lakes and ponds were already frozen.

This meant that the violent winds had even more snow to throw around, causing massive drifts, zero visibility and lethal road conditions. Twenty-nine people were killed, many of whom were trapped in their cars because of all the ice. The storm’s reach stretched as far as Canada, but Buffalo took the brunt of it, which played into its reputation as the blizzard capital of the US.

The Carolean Death March of 1719 – Norway

When anything is referred to as a ‘death march’, you know it was probably really bad. During that time, Sweden had just come under the rule of Queen Ulrika Eleonora, but before that there had been Carl XII and Carl XI. As such, the soldiers were known as ‘Carolean’, and in 1719 6,000 of them marched into Norway in the hopes of forcing King Frederick IV to give up more land in the peace treaty. It didn’t work out that way, as Carl XII died on December 11th 1718, prompting the whole army to give up their siege and head back to Sweden, over the Tydal Mountains.

It was during this part of the voyage that they were hit by a huge, horrible blizzard. They were forced to camp, and set fire to basically everything that would burn in a bid to keep warm, but even with that in mind, 200 died on the first night. The storm raged on, the horses died, the supplies were abandoned and when the survivors finally made it to safety, there were only 2,100 of them, about 600 of whom were crippled from frostbite. Reportedly the Norwegian general who discovered the army camp saw sleds with the drivers still frozen in place, holding the reigns. 

The 1972 Iran Blizzard – Iran

Very little is actually known about the storm which struck Southern Iran in 72. What we do know is that approximately 4,000 people were killed. It lasted a week, with somewhere in the region of 7.9 metres of snow dropping. The entire populations of two villages – Kakkan and Kumar, were completely wiped out.

It is now recognised as the worst freak storm in modern history, as rescue workers dug their way into the snow to unearth entire farms and villages. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to discover that there was literally nobody left in some of them. The economic impact the storm had in Iran is still being felt today.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.