7 Snowstorms That Crippled the East Coast

A neighborhood covered in snow

Andrew Renneisen / Stringer / Getty Images

It's hard to put weather in perspective. One region’s "Snowpocalypse” can be another part of the country’s everyday winter weather. Snowstorms that hit the East Coast are often highly publicized, but some storms in this densely populated region are more memorable than others — case in point: January 2016's Winter Storm Jonas, pictured here.

While making this list, we considered total snowfall and the area the storm covered, as well as other factors, like prolonged low temperatures and the population affected.

The biggest snowstorms are the ones that shut down entire swaths of an area — the ones that close airports, shutter businesses, and keep the kids at home from school, often for days (or weeks) on end.

Without further ado, here are seven of the biggest snowstorms to hit the East Coast.

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Winter Storm Jonas in 2016

Photo: Geoff Alexander/Flickr

Fueled by the 2014-16 El Nino event, Winter Storm Jonas broke several snowfall records, cancelled more than 10,000 flights and, in the end, affected about 85 million people.

An average of 20 inches of snow fell across a wide swath of the Appalachian Mountains and the Mid-Atlantic coast, and both Baltimore and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, broke snowfall records. The maximum amount of record snowfall came from Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where a whopping 40.5 inches was measured.

While massive snowstorms have a tendency to disrupt work weeks, snowfall from Jonas began hitting the Mid-Atlantic on a Friday — convenient timing that likely made the storm less catastrophic. With schools preemptively cancelled and a sizable chunk of the region's workforce out of the office and off for the next two days, fewer people were out braving the roads. It also meant that the following day, a Saturday, made for the perfect snow day with few obligations.

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Snowpocalypse 2011

Photo: Mark Z./flickr

In January 2011, a series of major blizzards hit the East Coast, dropping about 20 inches of snow in Central Park, 2 feet in Brooklyn and 18 inches in Boston. Some New York City subway riders were trapped in cars for more than 10 hours, and thousands of flights, buses and trains were cancelled. Even the NFL took the unusual (and unpopular) step of postponing a game in the face of the storm.

In Southern cities like Atlanta, Birmingham, Alabama, and Charlotte, North Carolina, snow covered the ground, then turned into sheets of ice that shut down the region as temperatures remained low for days.

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Storm of the Century in 1993

Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Of all the storms on this list, the blizzard that ravaged the East Coast of the U.S. in 1993 is probably most likely to have left an impression on modern readers. The storm, also known as the '93 Superstorm, pounded the East Coast for two days in early March, dumping snow even in Florida. Hurricane-force winds toppled buildings and brought down power lines and tornadoes raged, killing dozens. In its wake, the storm left a sharp, deep cold and four feet of snow in some places. Many Southern cities and regions were shut down for days.

This was no regular storm — the hurricane winds and massive accumulations were often accompanied by lightning strikes, of which more than 60,000 were recorded. The storm caused more than $10 billion in damage and will be long remembered as the Big One.

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Great Blizzard of 1978

Photo: City of Boston Archives/flickr

In early February 1978, a huge swath of the country, including New York City, Massachusetts, the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes region, was hit by a large nor’easter blizzard that raged for two days. The storm brought hundreds of deaths, record-breaking snow accumulation totals and billions of dollars in damages.

In New York City, the snow shut down the city school systems, which rely on a subway system that's nearly impervious to snow-related shut downs. The storm also happened to fall during a new moon, which created a stronger tide that further exacerbated the damages in seaside communities. Giant waves lashed away jetties and cracked sea walls, washing away homes, streets and businesses.

In many places, the snow came down for 33 hours and caught many residents off-guard. In Massachusetts, thousands of workers were stranded in their offices for days afterward, while others were trapped in cars along the side of the road. Record-breaking 24-hour snowfall totals from the storm included 16.1 inches in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and 12.2 inches in Dayton, Ohio.

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The Great Blizzard of 1899

Wikipedia Commons.

The Great Blizzard of 1899 got its start in the U.S. in Florida, dropping its first flakes on Tampa on Feb. 12 and creating blizzard conditions along the west coast of Florida. (In fact, this 1899 photo of a snowball fight was taken on the steps of the capitol building in Tallahassee, Florida.) As the storm moved north, it brought plummeting temperatures and more snow. Washington, D.C., recorded 20.5 inches of snow; Cape May, New Jersey, saw an astounding 34 inches of snow; and many parts of New England recorded 2 to 3 feet.

In particular, The Great Blizzard is notable for pushing the temperature in Miami to 29 degrees and damaging crops in Cuba. The Great Blizzard was also dubbed "The Snow King" in a nod to the wide area covered by the snow and ice.

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The Great Blizzard of 1888

Photo: The Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

For three days in March 1888, a monster snowstorm shut down the entire Northeastern United States. On March 11, the snow started coming down, and it didn't stop for three days. When the clouds parted and the sun shone once again on March 15, some states were left with snowdrifts as high as 50 feet. Massachusetts and Connecticut had 50 inches of snow; New York and New Jersey 40 inches. Vermont saw 20 to 30 inches of snow.

Everything was shut down for well over a week, far longer in more rural areas. Houses burned due to snow-locked fire trucks and hundreds of people died from the cold. Even after life warmed up, floods created by the snowmelt created havoc. Interestingly, the blizzard was a catalyst for the creation of the first underground subway system in Boston.

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Great Snow of 1717

Photo: Svenstorm/flickr

The Great Snow of 1717 was actually a number of storms that dropped more than 5 feet of snow on the New England and New York colonies between Feb. 27 and March 7. That winter had been a particularly heavy with snow, and after the last storm passed on March 7, many homes were buried past the first floor and single-story homes were left completely covered. Snowdrifts piled up over the third story of some buildings and roads were shut down for weeks.

The storm was brutal to livestock and agriculture, killing animals and damaging orchard trees that were left vulnerable to grazers due to the piled up snow. It's estimated that as many as 95 percent of all the deer in many parts of New England died during or after this storm.