Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.
By: Christopher C. Burt , 9:07 PM GMT on November 16, 2012
World and U.S. Record Snowstorms
The city of Hegang, in China’s northeastern province of Heilongjiang, received its greatest snowstorm in at least 50 years (since reliable weather records began in China in 1962) on November 11-13th when 50 cm (20”) of snow accumulated. With winter bearing down and the lake-effect snow season about to begin, I thought I’d take a look at record-breaking snowstorms both in the U.S. and around the world.
Workers in a park in Hegang knock snow off trees following the record 20” snowfall that occurred on November 11-12th this month. Photo by Fang Baoshu, China Daily News.
World 24-hour and Single-snowstorm records
Comprehensive records of snowfall amounts are only maintained in the United States and Canada. In the rest of the world only the melted precipitation amount is kept track of, with the exception of snowfalls in ski resorts or when an exceptional storm may occur. So it is difficult to categorically claim that the ‘world’ records for a 24-hour storm total or single-storm total all really occurred in the United States.
Officially, the world’s greatest 24-hour snowfall was that which occurred at Silver Lake, Colorado on April 14-15, 1921 when 75.8” (193 cm) was measured. Unofficially, 77” (196 cm) was measured in one 24-hour period during an intense lake-effect snowstorm in Montague Township, New York on January 11-12, 1997.
A rare photograph of the possible world-record snowfall at Montague, New York on December 11-12, 1997. The COOP observer made one too many measurements (five instead of four) over the course of the 24-hour period that the 77” accumulated, thus the record was disallowed by the NWS. Photo by Cheryl Boughton.
An even greater amount was reported at the Crestview California Highway Department depot in the Sierra Nevada on January 14-15, 1952 with an 84” (213 cm) accumulation (California’s official 24-hour snowfall record is 67”/170 cm at Echo Summit on January 5, 1982).
Other notable 24-hour snowfalls in the U.S. include:
68”/173 cm at Adams, New York on January 9, 1976 (unofficial)
68”/173 cm at Squaw Valley Ski Resort, California on January 1, 1997 (unofficial)
65”/165 cm at Crystal Mountain, Washington on January 23-24, 1994
63”/160 cm at Georgetown, Colorado on December 4, 1913
62”/157 cm at Thompson Pass, Alaska on December 29, 1955
56”/142 cm at Randolph, New Hampshire on November 23-24, 1943
55.5”/141 cm at Alta, Utah on January 5-6, 1994
For a single storm, the official world record accumulation is 189” (480 cm) over a six-day period February 13-19, 1959 at Shasta Ski Bowl in northern California. However, a reliable measurement of 194” (493 cm) occurred in just four days at the Norden railway depot in California’s Sierra on April 20-23, 1880 during one of the greatest storm’s ever to strike California (Sacramento received 7.24”/184 mm of rain in 24 hours, a city record that still stands).
The greatest two-day snow accumulation on record (in the U.S. and world) is 120.6” (306 cm) at Thompson Pass, Alaska on December 29-30, 1955.
Outside of the U.S., the greatest 24-hour snowfall on record was 173 cm (68.2”) at Tsukayama, Japan on December 30-31, 1960 (this site should not be confused with a town with the same name in the Ryuku Islands). Tsukayama is located in the coastal mountains inland from the Sea of Japan along Honshu’s west coast. The coastal city of Takada is the snowiest sea-level location in the world (although Valdez, Alaska is also a contender for this dubious distinction) and once received 149 cm (58.6”) of snow in 24 hours on February 8, 1927.
A tremendous snow accumulation at Imokawa, Nigata Prefecture, Japan following a storm on February 27, 1972. Note the figure standing to the left of the doorway. This region is among the snowiest locations on earth. Photo by M. Ishii.
In Europe, the greatest 24-hour snowfall was 172 cm (67.8”) at Bessans in the French Alps which accumulated on April 5-6, 1959. Amazingly, this entire amount actually fell in just one 19-hour period. There is a report that claims that the Dartmoor Highlands, Devon in southwestern England received 183 cm (72”) of snow in just 15 hours on February 15-16, 1929. This figure is based upon newspaper accounts that claimed “six feet” of snow fell, so it is not precise. Although there are no detailed snowfall statistics for London, its greatest snowstorm may have been when 24” (61 cm) reportedly accumulated during a single storm in February 1579. Italy’s 24-hour snowfall record appears to be the 138 cm (54.4”) that fell in Montevergine (in the southern Apennines!) on February 22, 1929. For Switzerland the record is 132 cm (52”) at Klosters on January 29-30, 1982.
For Australia Blair Trewin of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology writes me: The most notable heavy snowfall event outside the high mountains in recorded Australian history was on 4-5 July 1900. Among the totals reported (generally through newspaper reports and other similar sources) were 2 feet (61 cm) at Bathurst, and 4 feet (122 cm) at Rydal, west of Lithgow (elevation about 900 meters/3000 feet), in New South Wales. This was presumably a storm total and it's not impossible that there could have been some drifting involved. I would expect that there have been similar or higher totals in the mountains but data are very limited.
Snowfall records for China are sketchy and one generally relies on press reports of remarkable events (such as the recent snowfall in Hegang). In October 2008, the China Daily newspaper reported that 183cm (73”) of snow fell in 36 hours in Lhunze County on the Tibetan plateau.
Canada’s official 24-hour snowfall record is the 145 cm (57.1”) that fell at Tahtsa Lake, British Columbia on February 11, 1999.
U.S. snowfall record notes and city table
The most intense ‘short duration’ snowfalls in the U.S. are almost all of the lake-effect variety occurring along and near the shores of Lake Michigan in Indiana, and Lake Erie and Lake Ontario in Ohio and New York. During the intense Buffalo area snowstorm of December 2, 2010 a spotter reported 7” (18 cm) of snow accumulation in just 30 minutes at West Seneca, New York. 12” (30 cm) of snow purportedly fell in one hour at Copenhagen, New York during a storm on December 2, 1966, and Valparaiso, Indiana measured 22” (56 cm) in just 3 hours on December 18, 1981!
Paradise Ranger Station and Lodge (located at an elevation of 5,430’) is generally accepted as the snowiest location in the U.S., and perhaps world, with an average of about 680” (1727 cm) of snowfall per season. On December 2, 1977 7.76” (197 mm) of melted precipitation was measured, their calendar day all-time record for such. It is unknown how much of this might have fallen as snow since short-term snowfall data for the site is not available. In this photograph, taken in March 1917, the snow had buried the 3-story lodge under a 30-foot (9 meters) on level snow depth. Photo from NOAA archives.
Here is a table of 24-hour and single-storm snowfall records for a select group of U.S. cities:
A more detailed list of snow records for 300 U.S. cities can be found on the Weather Underground’s Record Extremes page.
KUDOS: Thanks to Blair Trewin at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and Stephen Burt of the United Kingdom Royal Meteorological Society for snowstorm information from Australia and the U.K. respectively.
Christopher C. Burt
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