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What winter was like the year you were born

  • What winter was like the year you were born

    The United States has seen a wide range of winters over the past century—everything from warm, mild years where folks could stroll leisurely through parks in February, to turbulent, frigid seasons where people had to hunker down inside. There were years where blizzards swept in unannounced, covering huge swaths of the country in blankets of snow while other years storms have raged, bringing hurricane-force winds to cities and towns across the nation.

    The Midwest region is particularly susceptible to cold winters, especially in states like Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Michigan. In these places, residents lie in the path of both the low-pressure systems that originate in Alberta and travel southward (sometimes called “Canadian clippers”) and the shortwave low-pressure systems that come from the southwest, traveling northeast toward the Great Lakes region (also called “Panhandle hooks”). Additionally, some winters, particularly in recent years, see the polar vortex in the north sending giant masses of freezing Arctic air southward. These often settle over the Midwest, causing jarring drops in temperature.

    The Midwest isn’t the only place in America that’s vulnerable to blustery, bitter-cold winters, however. New England experiences a large number of hurricane-level storms and cyclones, mainly from nor’easters that form in Canada and travel south. The Rocky Mountains are prone to extreme temperature lows as well as heavy blizzards, especially in states like Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana (the latter of which can reach temperatures of 50 degrees below zero in the thick of winter). Alaska is another place that sees freezing, storm-filled winters that often break records for lowest temperatures and heaviest snowfalls. And the western states often get hit with torrential rainstorms that cause widespread flooding and damage. In contrast, Hawaii, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas enjoy some of the mildest winters in the U.S.

    To give you an idea of how these winters have played out over time, Stacker put together a slideshow featuring information and statistics for each year of the past century, beginning in 1920. In addition to average highs and lows, we’ve included major weather events like storms, blizzards, or other occurrences that captured headlines those years. Much of the data was compiled from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information (NOAA) in July 2019. The average, maximum, and minimum temperatures and average precipitation data for each year were gathered from the Climate at a Glance: National Time Series. This data describes winters (designated by NOAA as December of the preceding year through February of the current year) in the contiguous U.S. The record one-day snowfall data were gathered from Snowfall Extremes.

    Take a look at the slides to see what winter was like the year you were born.

    You may also like: States with the most hailstorms

  • 1920: North Dakota blizzard

    - Average winter temperature: 30.57° F (#10 coldest year; 6.6% below 100-year average)
    - Maximum winter temperature: 40.85° F (#11 coldest year; 5.5% below 100-year average)
    - Minimum winter temperature: 20.28° F (#13 coldest year; 8.9% below 100-year average)
    - Average precipitation: 5.63 in. (#7 coldest year; 17% below 100-year average)
    - Record one-day snowfall: Jackson County, SD on Jan. 5 (48 in.)

    The winter of 1920 was a particularly cold season—the seventh-coldest on record—however, it was North Dakota that felt it the most. The Peace Garden state suffered a devastating March blizzard that killed 34 people and took down telephone service between Devils Lake and Fargo.

  • 1921: The Great Olympic Blowdown

    - Average winter temperature: 34.8° F (#16 hottest year; 6.3% above 100-year average)
    - Maximum winter temperature: 45.16° F (#16 hottest year; 4.5% above 100-year average)
    - Minimum winter temperature: 24.42° F (#16 hottest year; 9.7% above 100-year average)
    - Average precipitation: 6.63 in. (#46 coldest year; 2.2% below 100-year average)
    - Record one-day snowfall: Boulder County, CO on April 15 (76 in.)

    In contrast to the previous season, the winter of 1921 was an abnormally warm year with an average temperature of 34.8 degrees throughout the United States. The Library of Congress even has a photograph of people swimming in the ocean in Miami Beach on Jan. 2. Still, the Pacific Northwest experienced a brief but powerful storm in January, known as the Great Olympic Blowdown, that resulted in thousands of dollars in damage in the towns of Aberdeen and Hoquiam.

  • 1922: The Knickerbocker Storm

    - Average winter temperature: 31.28° F (#24 coldest year; 4.5% below 100-year average)
    - Maximum winter temperature: 41.84° F (#23 coldest year; 3.2% below 100-year average)
    - Minimum winter temperature: 20.73° F (#19 coldest year; 6.9% below 100-year average)
    - Average precipitation: 6.71 in. (#48 hottest year; 1.1% below 100-year average)
    - Record one-day snowfall: Los Angeles County, CA on Feb. 24 (40 in.)

    In January of 1922, a fierce blizzard tore through the Mid-Atlantic section of the United States, crumbling the Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington D.C. and causing other damage. The weather event, which came to be known as the Knickerbocker Storm, resulted in the deaths of 98 people and 133 additional injuries.

  • 1923: Major snowfall in Sault Ste. Marie

    - Average winter temperature: 32.57° F (#47 coldest year; 0.5% below 100-year average)
    - Maximum winter temperature: 43.16° F (#46 coldest year; 0.1% below 100-year average)
    - Minimum winter temperature: 21.99° F (#50 coldest year; 1.2% below 100-year average)
    - Average precipitation: 6.97 in. (#37 hottest year; 2.8% above 100-year average)
    - Record one-day snowfall: Sanders County, MT on Dec. 9 (29 in.)

    The winter of 1923 was a brutal year for folks in the Midwest, where temperatures were especially low and snowfall was intense. In Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., where snowfall typically averaged around 70 inches, they received a staggering 105 inches. By April, the city had amassed more than 9 feet of snow, and residents reportedly had to use horses to clear the streets.

  • 1924: Blizzard in Milwaukee, WI

    - Average winter temperature: 32.48° F (#43 coldest year; 0.8% below 100-year average)
    - Maximum winter temperature: 43.16° F (#46 coldest year; 0.1% below 100-year average)
    - Minimum winter temperature: 21.81° F (#44 coldest year; 2.1% below 100-year average)
    - Average precipitation: 6.66 in. (#47 coldest year; 1.8% below 100-year average)
    - Record one-day snowfall: Kenai Peninsula Borough, AK on Dec. 13 (36 in.)

    As the 1924 Winter Olympics was wrapping up in Chamonix, France, residents of Milwaukee, Wis., experienced their own winter storm on Feb. 4 when 20.3 inches of snow fell in 24 hours. The intense weather event, which caused more than $1 million in damage, marked the largest volume of snow in a one-day period in Milwaukee since 1884.

  • 1925: Alaska’s Great Race of Mercy

    - Average winter temperature: 31.66° F (#29 coldest year; 3.3% below 100-year average)
    - Maximum winter temperature: 42.49° F (#35 coldest year; 1.7% below 100-year average)
    - Minimum winter temperature: 20.83° F (#22 coldest year; 6.5% below 100-year average)
    - Average precipitation: 6.69 in. (#49 coldest year; 1.4% below 100-year average)
    - Record one-day snowfall: Johnson County, WY on March 21 (49 in.)

    In 1925, the remote town of Nome, Alaska, suffered its worst winter in 20 years. With intense blizzards and sub-zero temperatures raging, an outbreak of diphtheria required emergency vaccine supplies to be delivered via dog sled to the isolated town. The event came to be known as the Great Race of Mercy, and its lead sled dog Balto became a hero memorialized as a statue in New York's Central Park.

  • 1926: Utah mining town avalanche

    - Average winter temperature: 33.49° F (#32 hottest year; 2.3% above 100-year average)
    - Maximum winter temperature: 43.77° F (#38 hottest year; 1.3% above 100-year average)
    - Minimum winter temperature: 23.23° F (#31 hottest year; 4.3% above 100-year average)
    - Average precipitation: 6.07 in. (#21 coldest year; 10.5% below 100-year average)
    - Record one-day snowfall: Banner County, NE on Dec. 14 (30 in.)

    On Feb. 17, 1926, a devastating avalanche killed 36 people and injured 13 more in a small Utah mining town in Bingham County when more than a dozen cottages and a three-story boarding house were destroyed. “Because the canyon was so narrow, Bingham only had one street,” writes Catherine Armstrong for Only In Your State. “Homes lined the street all the way up the canyon for seven miles. Unfortunately, this narrow topography would prove to be deadly.”

  • 1927: Record snowfall in Raleigh, NC

    - Average winter temperature: 33.59° F (#29 hottest year; 2.6% above 100-year average)
    - Maximum winter temperature: 43.68° F (#41 hottest year; 1.1% above 100-year average)
    - Minimum winter temperature: 23.52° F (#25 hottest year; 5.6% above 100-year average)
    - Average precipitation: 7.16 in. (#29 hottest year; 5.6% above 100-year average)
    - Record one-day snowfall: Tucker County, WV on Feb. 10 (36 in.)

    Although the winter of 1927 was fairly mild throughout the United States, the people of Raleigh, N.C., experienced an extremely intense winter with record-breaking snowfall. On March 2, the city received 17.8 inches of snow in 24 hours—a record that wasn’t broken for more than seven decades until it received 17.9 inches in January of 2000.

  • 1928: A mild winter everywhere

    - Average winter temperature: 31.51° F (#28 coldest year; 3.7% below 100-year average)
    - Maximum winter temperature: 42.25° F (#30 coldest year; 2.2% below 100-year average)
    - Minimum winter temperature: 20.77° F (#20 coldest year; 6.7% below 100-year average)
    - Average precipitation: 5.8 in. (#13 coldest year; 14.5% below 100-year average)
    - Record one-day snowfall: Custer County, ID on Nov. 30 (42 in.)

    The winter of 1928 was a season of respite, and folks in blizzard-prone regions were spared major storms and catastrophes. The average temperature for most of the country was above average and even the Atlantic hurricane season that preceded it was mild with no major storms striking U.S. land. This was a major contrast to the previous season, which saw four hurricanes.

  • 1929: Extreme cold in the U.S—and Europe

    - Average winter temperature: 28.72° F (#3 coldest year; 12.3% below 100-year average)
    - Maximum winter temperature: 39.46° F (#4 coldest year; 8.7% below 100-year average)
    - Minimum winter temperature: 17.99° F (#3 coldest year; 19.2% below 100-year average)
    - Average precipitation: 6.12 in. (#24 coldest year; 9.8% below 100-year average)
    - Record one-day snowfall: Routt County, CO on March 2 (30 in.)

    After two fairly mild winters in a row, 1929 came in with a vengeance, hammering the United States with the third-coldest winter in the last century. It was even worse across the pond, where Europe experienced one of its coldest winters in history. Berlin, for example, was hit with the worst ice wave since 1719, and Vienna saw its lowest temperatures since 1775. As the cities dealt with ice-cold conditions, Europe's 1,770-mile Danube River froze over completely.

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