The Worst Blizzards In World History

Many of the worst blizzards in world history hit unexpectedly. When mild temperatures suddenly gave way to high winds and massive snowfall, citizens were left ill-prepared to cope with conditions. The most destructive of these storms often caused millions in damages, leaving an economic impact for years to come. Plus, natural disasters caused by blizzards, such as floods and avalanches, often claimed even more lives than the initial storms themselves. 

Massive blizzards often touch down in unexpected places. Warmer areas, like Florida and West Virginia, have been slammed with unprecedented snowfall over the course of history. The earth's ever changing climate, and the potential impact of global warming in coming years, could increase the likelihood of unusual weather patterns in the future. Learning about blizzards, and the conditions that cause them, is important to prepare for such storms. This list of blizzards around world recounts the worst of the worst from all corners of the globe, reminding us that frigid weather can be deadly and unexpected. 

  • 1972 Iran Blizzard
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    1972 Iran Blizzard

    Date: February 1972

    Location: Northwestern, southern, and central Iran

    Casualties: 4,000

    Cost: Unknown 

    The 1972 Iran Blizzard began in the first few days of February 1972. It lasted a week, dumping 10 to 26 feet of snow over 200 villages. It remains one of the deadliest snowstorm in recorded history, claiming roughly 4,000 lives. 

    Nearly 6,000 people were reported missing during the disaster, including an American college student and two men who went mountain climbing near Tehran. A search team was sent to track them, but they were also lost in the 39 inches of snow atop the mountain.

    As the blizzard dwindled down, the Iranian government prepared for the aftermath. They took precautions to prevent further loss of life in the inevitable flooding. 

  • 1719 Carolean Death March
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    1719 Carolean Death March

    Date: January 12, 1719

    Location: Tydal mountain range in Norway

    Casualties: At least 3,000

    Cost: Unknown

    The Second Northern War involved Sweden, Russia, Denmark-Norway, and Saxony-Poland. The latter three sought to stop Sweden's reach in the Baltic area, leading to several battles over the course of 21 years. 

    In 1719, Sweden's forces suffered the loss of their king and were ordered to return home. One platoon of 6,000 Swedish soldiers was in the Norwegian village of Tydal at that time and decided to retreat to Sweden by traveling through a nearby mountain range. Although no snow was spotted on their trip, once the army reached the mountains a blizzard hit them. The snow, high winds, and freezing temperatures claimed the lives of 3,000 men and several horses.

    While the blizzard itself took 3,000 lives, the devastation continued for the remainder of the journey. As the survivors continued their march, an additional 700 died enroute to Sweden. As the soldiers called themselves Caroleans, today the event is known as the Carolean Death March. 

  • 2008 Afghanistan Blizzard
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    2008 Afghanistan Blizzard

    Date: February 2008

    Location: Afghanistan

    Casualties: 926

    Cost: $2.55 million in food assistance

    The worst winter on record for Afghanistan was created by a timeline of three events. First a low pressure system dropped 71 inches of snow, followed by another 30 plus inches. Then, colder air from the North Pole entered the region and made temperatures dip to dangerous levels. Many of the over 900 people who died in the blizzard were caught unprepared outside of their homes tending to their animals. Along with the human casualties, 230,000 livestock died from the severe cold snap. 

    Roadways were blocked and the poor were left without access to hospitals to treat the frostbite taking over their bodies. There was no way for aid to reach the people either, leaving thousands of residents stranded in the storms for days before they were found - if they were found at all.

  • The Great Blizzard Of 1888
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    The Great Blizzard Of 1888

    Date: March 1888

    Location: Atlantic Coast of the US

    Casualties: Over 400

    Cost: $20 million in property damage

    On Sunday, March 11, 1888, a storm met up with a warm front and began dumping snow on New York City. By Monday morning, 10 inches of snow had fallen. Over the course of the storm, 22 inches fell in the city while other nearby areas saw as much as 50 inches.

    Adding to the chaos and danger, high winds brought below freezing temperatures into the mix. Power lines were destroyed, snowdrifts reached 50 feet, and people who had ventured from their homes remained stranded in streets and shops. Some wind gusts reached 85 mile per hour. Due to the intense conditions, over 400 people died during the course of the blizzard.

  • 1950 Great Appalachian Storm
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    1950 Great Appalachian Storm

    Date: November 1950

    Location: Eastern US

    Casualties: 383

    Cost: $700 million

    Thanksgiving weekend 1950 spawned an "extratropical cyclone" of warm air in North Carolina. The cyclone then encountered a cold front in Ohio. The result was high winds in several states, with speeds as high as 110 miles per hour in New Hampshire. Millions of people lost power from downed electrical lines during the storm.

    While rain drenched some states, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia received severe blizzard conditions. The three states saw up to 20 inches of snow, with 62 inches reported in the town of Coburn, West Virginia. Due to the poor conditions, over 300 people died during the blizzard. 

  • 1993 Storm Of The Century
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    1993 Storm Of The Century

    Date: March 11-14, 1993

    Location: Over two-thirds of the US

    Casualties: 318

    Cost: $5.5 billion

    In March 1993, tornados and thunderstorms originating in the Gulf of Mexico combined with cold weather in the Southeastern United States to create blizzards across the country. The storm spanned across several states, with Tennessee being hit the hardest with 60 inches. The damage was immense. Power outages were widespread, with over 10 million people and businesses losing power. The storm set the record for most weather related flight cancellations in United States history. Trees were blown over by the wind, boats tied to docks were ripped away, and houses lost their roofs. 

    This remains the most costly snowstorm to hit the US. The storm cost $5.5 billion in damages, which would come to around $9.6 billion today.