A Couple of Examples of Historic Thunder-Snowstorms in Illinois

By: Christopher C. Burt , 8:36 PM GMT on December 20, 2012

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A Couple of Examples of Historic Thunder-Snowstorms in Illinois

Winter storm Draco (as The Weather Channel has designated it) has produced multiple reports of heavy thunder snow so far in Iowa, Wisconsin, and northern Illinois. Although rare, this phenomenon has occurred frequently in the past. Here are two examples (from 1933 and 1960) from Illinois that were particularly devastating.

Storm of March 20-22, 1932

A deep low-pressure system of similar intensity to Draco also followed roughly the same path , albeit about 150 miles further to the south, on March 21-22, 1932. By the evening of March 21 heavy snow with intense lightning and thunder was occurring over portions of northern Illinois including Chicago. Snowfall reached a total of 16” in the north-central portion of Illinois with 6-10” in the Chicago area. A squall line bisected the warm front and crossed the southern two-thirds of the state producing two tornadoes and hail up to 3.5” in diameter in southern Illinois. Hail fell for 30 minutes and accumulated 3” deep in the Effingham area of east-central Illinois. The combination of ice, snow, wind, and hail shut down transportation and communications in the northern half of the state for two days following the storm.





The top map shows the path of the cyclone of March 21-22, 1932 as it traversed Illinois creating virtually every kind of severe weather across the state. The bottom map contains the details of snowfall, precipitation amounts, and areas reporting hail, high winds, and tornadoes. Maps by Stanley A. Changnon, reproduced in Weatherwise magazine in 1964.

Storm of February 9-10, 1960

This storm followed the path of Draco more closely but its pressure (while over central Illinois) of 998 mb was not as deep as Draco’s (around 988 mb in central Illinois as I write this). Like the 1932 event, the 1960 storm produced blizzard conditions in northern Illinois with intense lightning and thunder. Chicago received 8-12” of snow and drifts of 8-10 feet were common across the northern third of the state. Lightning struck and damaged a building during the period of heavy snowfall in a Chicago suburb. In southern Illinois three tornadoes caused widespread damage, killed two persons, and injured 59 others.





As in the previous example, the top map shows the path of the cyclone of February 9-10, 1960 as it traversed Illinois creating virtually every kind of severe weather across the state. The bottom map contains the details of snowfall, precipitation amounts, and areas reporting hail, high winds, and tornadoes. Maps by Stanley A. Changnon, reproduced in Weatherwise magazine in 1964.

It will be interesting to compare Draco to these previous events when all is said and done.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

REFERENCE: Stanley A. Changnon, Jr. for the maps and story he wrote about these storms in Weatherwise magazine, Vol. 17, No. 6, December 1964.

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4. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
8:40 PM GMT on December 21, 2012
weatherhistorian has created a new entry.
3. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
2:47 AM GMT on December 21, 2012
Quoting georgevandenberghe:
The worst thundersnow I have experienced occurred during a February 1983 coastal snowstorm in New Jersey. I had rented cross country skis and thought I would ski to a friend's home a few miles away. Driving was out of the question. Fall rates were 2"/hour with 10" on the ground. I saw flashes of lightning and heard thunder and thought "wow thundersnow.."

This was just the start though. Within five minutes I realized it was not safe to be out. The lightning was frequent and very very close with less than a second between flash and crash. Fortunately I had just started out (breaking trail in the front yard) and I beat a retreat indoors from one of the most intense lightning displays I've seen winter or summer in New Jersey, Florida or Maryland.

Total accumulation with this storm was 16-20" in the Princeton NJ area. (Had there been no lightning I probably still wouldn't have made it even though I was 24 and in good shape)


Sorry to plug my book (remaining copies about to be pulped) but see page 155: 'Remarkable Storm of Ball Lightning in Mt. Desert, Maine' on on February 16, 1853.

I quote: "On the evening of February 16, 1853, a blizzard raged across Down East Maine. Not an unusual occurrence for this region at this time of year, but what happened over the course of the night at Bar Harbor was unusual in the extreme and seems like something right out of a Stephen King novel".

Purchase the book or get a copy from your library to read what happened next in Bar Harbor that night. It was a well documented event!
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 312 Comments: 293
2. georgevandenberghe
11:41 PM GMT on December 20, 2012
The worst thundersnow I have experienced occurred during a February 1983 coastal snowstorm in New Jersey. I had rented cross country skis and thought I would ski to a friend's home a few miles away. Driving was out of the question. Fall rates were 2"/hour with 10" on the ground. I saw flashes of lightning and heard thunder and thought "wow thundersnow.."

This was just the start though. Within five minutes I realized it was not safe to be out. The lightning was frequent and very very close with less than a second between flash and crash. Fortunately I had just started out (breaking trail in the front yard) and I beat a retreat indoors from one of the most intense lightning displays I've seen winter or summer in New Jersey, Florida or Maryland.

Total accumulation with this storm was 16-20" in the Princeton NJ area. (Had there been no lightning I probably still wouldn't have made it even though I was 24 and in good shape)
Member Since: February 1, 2012 Posts: 19 Comments: 1950

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About weatherhistorian

Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.