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Ten Best: Winter storms

by Amy Kingsley

Children’s Blizzard

A light snow dusts the Triad last week and all hell breaks loose. Students, professionals, government officials, garbage men, everyone, it seems, who doesn’t work for a news organization gets a snow day. To put last week’s snow in a little bit of historical context – and for a dab of justification for those school closings – go back to the Dakota Territory circa 1888. My great-grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse, and had to tie her students together after the mercury plummeted and great gusts of snow dropped from the sky, creating what they call a “white out.” In all, 235 people died, many of them children who had tried to get home when the weather turned.

Knickerbocker Storm

Washington, DC’s Knickerbocker Theater was only five years old on Jan. 28, 1922, the second day of a winter storm that sped up the East Coast from Georgia and stalled over the nation’s capital. The architect built the enormous movie house with a flat roof that strained and finally buckled under the weight of so much wet snow. Rep. Andrew Jackson Barchfeld (R-Pa.) and 97 others died in the disaster.

Great Lakes Blizzard

The Brooklyn band Nada Surf immortalized the blizzard of ’77 on their 2003 release with this song: In the blizzard of ’77, the cars were just lumps on the snow/ And then later, tripping at 7-11, the shelves were stretching out of control. Tripping aside, this monster paralyzed upstate New York and parts of Pennsylvania from late January until early February. The federal government enacted a travel ban after icy roads and low visibility led to a slew of gnarly accidents; they lifted it for five hours on Feb. 1 to get food to the besieged residents.

Armistice Day Blizzard

The morning of Nov. 11, 1940 was unseasonably warm by Minnesota standards, with temperatures headed towards the sixties. Hunters pulled on their camouflage and set out for their duck blinds. Late in the afternoon, a cold front moved in, dragging high winds and moisture in its wake. The storm ended more than 24 hours and 27 inches of snow later, its impact exacerbated by the fact that forecasters totally missed it. In all, some 154 people died.

West Virginia ’96

While not technically a blizzard, a heap of snow devoured the Mountain State in 1996. Pocahontas County in eastern West Virginia took 48 inches of accumulation in a single day in early January. My boo, a native of Buckhannon in Upshur County, said that ice struck just days after the snow fell, which made it impossible to clear the roads until rain started falling later in the month. Biblical flooding ensued. According to Mark, his high school canceled classes for a solid month. By the way, they’re still mad they don’t get respect for this one.

North Carolina ice storm

In early December 2002, barely a year after I moved to Greensboro from sunny Austin, Texas, an ice storm stole across the state, leaving inches of itself along tree branches that subsequently dropped like axe blades. The storm took out power to more than 1 million people. My friend Christie moved her entire family – including husband and three kids – into the green room at Triad Stage for a full week until Duke Energy finally restored her power.

Great White Hurricane

The Blizzard of 1888, which hit just two months after the Children’s Blizzard, is widely recognized as the worst winter storm in US history. Accumulation between 40 and 50 inches was reported for most areas between the Chesapeake Bay and Maine. New York City suffered the brunt, with drifts that towered over the roofs of some houses. As the storm charged out to sea, it took out a number of commercial vessels, killing up to 100 sailors.

Superstorm of 1993

How crazy is this: In 1993, a low-pressure system hailing from the Gulf of Mexico dumped snow all over the eastern half of the country, including a foot of snow in southern Alabama. Meteorologists still marvel at the sheer size of this storm, which blanketed all the states between the gulf coast and Massachusetts between March 12 and 13.

The Great Midwest Blizzard

Chicago recorded its greatest single-day snowfall total on Jan. 27, 1967 when a “Panhandle hook” storm from New Mexico ambushed Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and parts of Michigan. Winds hit 50 mph, creating towering snowdrifts and biting chills. Seventy-six people died, most of them in the Chicago area, according to the National Weather Service webpage.

Blizzard of ’05

We needn’t dive too deep into the history books to find worthy examples of winter’s wrath. The weather service honored the 2005 eastern snowstorm as one of its all-time top six on a webpage devoted to blizzards. Three different weather systems collided on the atmospheric road to New England, and the resulting storm spanned four days. That January, Boston received a grand total of 43.3 inches of snow.

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