The Nation’s Top 10 Worst Ice Storms
The Nation’s Top 10 Worst Ice Storms

The Nation’s Top 10 Worst Ice Storms

By Mihran Kalaydjian, CHA

The Nation’s Top 10 Worst Ice Storms

#10: New Year’s 1961 (Northern Idaho)

The most destructive ice storms feature heavy ice accumulation, sometimes on the order of several inches, that, when sometimes combining with strong winds, bring down trees and power lines, plunging hundreds of thousands into the dark, sometimes for several days. We’ve collected a list of the top 10 worst ice storms in U.S. history, starting with one in northern Idaho.

A three-day ice event ushering in 1961 featuring not only freezing rain, but also occasional freezing fog  set a U.S.

Power outages and tree damage was widespread in this area. Incidentally, one somewhat common ice storm corridor is along the Columbia River, where subfreezing air spilling over the Continental Divide can sometimes remain trapped ahead of a wet Pacific storm.

#9: January 2000 (Atlanta)

Atlanta Ice Storm 2000

The timing couldn’t have been worse, and the impact of this ice storm continues to this day in Atlanta.

The week before Super Bowl XXXIV, an ice storm left half a million customers without power, some for more than a week. Just days later, another winter storm hit Atlanta on Super Bowl weekend.

Jan. 2000 ice storm facts:

Estimated total losses in north Georgia: $48 million

The second winter storm disrupted practice the Saturday before the Super Bowl. Roads from the teams’ hotel to the Georgia Dome were too hazardous.

Atlanta has not hosted another Super Bowl since 2000. 

Atlanta lost a bid to host the 2009 Super Bowl, awarded instead to Tampa, Fla.

In February 2011, Super Bowl XLV was disrupted by a week-long snow/ice event in Arlington, Texas.

#8: New Year’s Eve 1978 (North Texas)

There have been many ice storms in Texas history. Six inches of ice accumulated in parts of northwest Texas on Jan. 22-24, 1940, according to Weather Underground’s Christopher Burt.

New Year’s Eve 1978 was the worst ice storm in North Texas in three decades, producing ice accumulations up to 2 inches thick in a 100 mile-wide swath from just west of Waco to Paris, Texas.

New Year’s Eve 1978 ice storm facts:

2,000 residents treated for injuries from vehicle accidents, falls on ice and frostbite.

Nearly 300,000 Dallas County customers lost power for two days. Others lost power for up to 10 days.

$14 million in damage in Dallas County

#7: Christmas 2000

Christmas 2000 Ice Storm

You can certainly vouch for grumpy moods around Christmas 2000 in parts of the South.

In mid-December, an ice storm left more than 500,000 without power in parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. At the time, one Arkansas official called it the most destructive ice storm he’d seen to the electrical utility infrastructure, there.

Just under two weeks later, the weather grinch delivered a lump of coal to stockings from New Mexico to Oklahoma and Arkansas in the form of another ice storm. 

Christmas 2000 ice storm facts:

Over 1 inch of accumulated ice in many locations from northeast Texas into southeast Oklahoma, Arkansas and northern Louisiana.

At least 600,000 customers were without power.

These were the two most widespread, damaging ice storms of record in Arkansas history at the time, dating to 1819, according to the National Weather Service.

Much of cities of Texarkana, Hot Springs and Little Rock, Ark. were without power.

Water systems in Texarkana and Hot Springs, Ark. were also down.

FEMA Director James Lee Witt’s western Ark. farm also lost power.

#6: New England 1921

November 1921 ice storm

One of the most prominent ice storm alleys in the U.S. is the interior Northeast, from northern Pennsylvania, central and upstate New York into New England.

In the days after Thanksgiving 1921, a four-day ice storm with accumulations over three inches in spots, crippled parts of New England, including the city of Worcester.

Damage to power lines, trees, and phone lines was estimated at $20 million. Adjusted for inflation, this storm today would’ve caused over a quarter million dollars in 2013.

Compounding the mess were high winds, turning streets into ice rinks, a challenge to anyone on foot.

In his book, Extreme Weather, Weather Underground’s Christopher Burt cites a paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society stating “ice on the side of any dense, unbroken evergreen tree 50 feet high and on average 20 feet wide would have weighed five tons” due to the weight of accumulated ice.

At the time, this was the most destructive ice storm of record in New England.

#5: Great Ice Storm of 1951

 

A more than 100-mile wide swath from Louisiana to West Virginia was affected by a severe ice storm from Jan. 29-Feb. 2 in 1951.

1951 ice storm facts:

Ice accumulations of up to two inches reported on powerlines and tree limbs.

The heaviest accumulations were between Memphis, Tenn, Nashville, Tenn. and Lexington, Ky. Nashville was buried under ?eight inches of ice and snow by the time everything was finished on Feb. 1.

High winds from a line of thunderstorms that developed from southwest Louisiana to central Mississippi and northern ?Alabama combined with the glazing of ice to result in widespread tree and powerline damage.

The storm was also accompanied by frigid temperatures. Nashville recorded a low temperature of 13 degrees below zero on Feb. 2.

Communications and utilities interrupted for a week to 10 days.

Damage was estimated to be $100 million.

25 people were killed and about 500 were injured.

#4: Dec. 4-5, 2002 Ice Storm

An early-season winter storm struck many states from Dec. 4-5 in 2002. Locations from Oklahoma to southern Missouri, southern Illinois, Kentucky, northern Tennessee, northeast Georgia and the Carolinas were impacted by freezing rain, sleet and snow. Accumulating snow also affected parts of the Middle Atlantic and Northeast. North Carolina was hardest hit by freezing rain accumulations.

2002 ice storm facts:

One of the worst ice storms to ever hit North Carolina. 

Accumulations of up to an inch were reported in central parts of the state. 

The storm caused the largest power outage in North Carolina’s history. More than 1.7 million customers lost power and 41,000 remained without power eight days later.

Widespread damage to trees and power lines was reported.

Property damage almost $100 million in North Carolina.

Parts of the Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham metro areas were paralyzed for days.

#3: Jan. 26-28, 2009, Arkansas and Kentucky

Days of freezing rain led to heavy ice accumulations of one to locally more than two inches in northern Arkansas and portions of Kentucky in late January of 2009. For perspective, accumulations of more than a half inch are considered crippling.

The heavy ice coatings caused widespread damage to trees, power lines and power poles. Trees fell on homes and cars and blocked roads.

The storm was so damaging that the National Weather Service in both Paducah, Ky. and Louisville, Ky. rated it as the worst weather event of the decade for their respective areas.

Kentucky’s governor, Steve Beshear, described it as the biggest natural disaster the state has experienced in modern history. Governor Beshear called in National Guard troops to help clear roads and go door to door to check on families in the western part of the state (the worst-hit area).

In Arkansas, Mel Coleman, CEO of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative described the scene, “In all of my years I have never seen anything that compares to the damage this storm has caused. I have yet to see a mature tree standing that was not severely damaged. Just opening the door to the outside sounds like a war zone, with the continuous sounds of trees and limbs breaking.”

2009 ice storm facts:

At its height, a total of 1.3 million residents were left without power in multiple states.

For Kentucky, it was the largest power outage in history with 609,000 homes and businesses in the dark.

Over 200,000 lost power in Louisville and it took as long as 10 days to get all customers back online. Area schools were out for up to a week.

Necessities such as food and water were difficult to obtain and lines for gas were hours long.

Heavy sleet accumulations across much of southern Illinois and parts of southeast Missouri caused dozens of roof collapses. 

At least 30,000 power poles were downed or snapped in Arkansas.

More than 145 miles of high-voltage transmission lines were downed in southeast Missouri.

Clean up of debris from the storm lasted into the summer

The storm claimed 24 lives in Kentucky and another 18 in Arkansas from a combination of traffic accidents, hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning.

#2: Feb. 9-13, 1994, Southern Ice Storm

The second worst ice storm in history hit the South Feb. 9-13, 1994. Extensive damage totaling $3 billion was reported in portions Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

1994 ice storm facts:

Of all the states affected, Mississippi Tennessee and Alabama saw the worst impacts.

More than 2 million lost power. A half million were still without power three days after the storm. Some residents in Mississippi were without power a month after the storm.

More than 80,000 utility poles were pulled down by the weight of the ice.

Downed trees and limbs caused widespread damage to homes, businesses and vehicles. Many roads were blocked as well, making travel nearly impossible in some areas.

In Mississippi, 3.7 million acres of commercial forests were damaged severely.

At least nine deaths related to direct or indirect impacts from the storm.

#1: Jan. 5-9, 1998, New England and Southeast Canada

A crippling, devastating ice storm hit portions of upstate New York, northern Vermont, northern New Hampshire, much of Maine and southeast Canada. Its impacts were so severe that it made an exclusive list as one of 144 weather disasters compiled by NOAA which have exceeded a billion dollars in damage from 1980-2012.

1998 ice storm facts:

Total damage was $1.4 billion in the U.S. plus another $3 billion in Canada.

Over 500,000 in northern New England lost power. Near 80 percent of Maine’s population lost electrical service.

The extensive power outages lasted for days and in some cases weeks.

16 lives were lost in the U.S. and an additional 28 deaths related to the ice storm were reported in Canada.

Ice accumulations were as much as 3 inches thick in northern New York, northern New England and southeast Canada.

Rapid ice accumulations from the Jan. 7-9, 1998 downed millions of trees and caused widespread destruction of power lines and power poles.

Included in the millions of damaged trees were many maple and apple trees, which affected the maple sugaring and apple industries for years.

Outside of the crippling ice, this storm system also brought flooding to portions of the South, lower-Mississippi Valley and Upstate New York. The most severe flooding was in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee where more than 700 homes were damaged or destroyed. Total costs were $15 million in North Carolina and $20 million in Tennessee.

 

 

 

 

 


 

81 Comments

    1. Hello Vashti;

      Just wanted to stop by to say thanks for following my work and for the likes. Much appreciated. I had very first understand Ice Storms in Canada can lead, however there are factors to consider who could be at the first place.

      Have a great week;
      Cheers;
      MK

  1. What an incredible post! Here is mild, very wet England I dont think such a thing as an ice storm has ever occurred. I can not imagine how terrible and disruptive it would be to be struck by such a disruptive weather problem…….

    1. Good Afternoon Michelle;

      Hope this message finds you well and in good health. I just sent few moments ago an invite in Face Book, could you please kindly respond to my request, I appreciate it. You are completely welcome. I’m glad you like the blogs I’m re-blogging. 🙂 Yes, glad our paths have crossed. Your page is very interesting.

      Cheers;
      Miran

    1. Hi Mary – Thank you for your comments – Here are some reasons we wish to still live in Hawaii:

      ◦Hawaii temperatures are ideal. It is never too hot – over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, nor is it ever colder than starting your breath to fog.
      ◦Hawaii has almost constant “trade winds” that keep fresh air blowing in across the island to dispurse whatever pollution might have come from the vehicles.
      ◦The Hawaiian Islands are surrounded by deep blue, powerful ocean. The color is unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere. There is a real power to the ocean here – it’s awesome in it’s power, it’s constant movement.
      ◦Hawaii has awesome things to do. Shopping, walking, picnics, sightseeing, visiting attractions like the volcanoes and historical sights like Pearl Harbor.
      ◦Surfing, bodyboarding, bodysurfing, swimming, sailing, kayaking, snorkeling, diving, hobiecatting, windsurfing, parasailing, parasurfing, and kiteboarding (on skateboards) are all fun activities available if you’re bored.
      ◦Climbing / hiking. There are over 12 mountain ridge hikes on Oahu alone. Peaks over 4,000 feet high are available on Oahu. On Maui you can climb Haleakala volcano up over 10,000 feet if you were inspired.
      ◦Hawaii is so diverse. The people, the food, the things to do, the cultures, the way of life, the whole atmosphere is different from anything you’ve ever experienced.

      1. I’m humbled beyond belief! You are completely welcome. I’m glad you like the blogs I’m re-blogging. 🙂 Yes, glad our paths have crossed. Your page is very interesting.

  2. You did a lot of research on this post. I live in Western Kentucky and remember well when the lights went out in 2009. Fortunately I live in a high priority building, so within 24 hours of watching our transformer blow, I saw the lights come back on. Our town is called the “City of Trees” and we are still in the process of replanting the trees that were destroyed, to continue to live up to that description.

    1. I just re-read this post, because we are now under another winter storm warning, and we seldom get snow, but always seem to get ice. Naturally I’m wondering when, or if, we will be able to get out again, this month. Our temperature was 40 F. yesterday, now it has been 9 F since I got up 3 hours ago. Skies are cloudy and heavy with some kind of messy potential, and warming shelters have already been opened. Our trees have been replaced by concrete imitations and the town is growing uglier by the day.

      I also remember ice from 2002, and from 1999, which was not the worst one, but I was working second shift at a nursing home when the 1999 ice hit, freezing my car doors shut, leaving 2″ on the parking lot and the windows of my car. That was the year I crawled across the ice to my car, and discovered Windex is good for melting ice. Kitty litter is also good to gain traction when trying to go up a curb at your apartment complex. A few tricks I never really wanted to learn.

      1. Thank you – your answer caught my attention, I apologize for not responding earlier to your comment. I appreciate the information, facts you are sharing it. Thank you so much! I will read more on our page as well…

  3. Thanks for sharing the facts on these various ice storms. I experienced the ice storm of 1998 in Ontario. No heat or hydro for 15 days with -32 temperatures. It was certainly an experience I will never forget, and it taught me a lot about survival in extreme conditions. BTW, thanks for visiting and following my blog. I find yours extremely interesting!

  4. This reminds me. Did you hear that hurricanes with female names in the US are more deadly? They aren’t any stronger, but when people hear a female name they think the storm will be less harsh, and so they are less prepared for them, and less likely to leave.

  5. what a comprehensive post – just great – was hoping to see the snow storm of 1977 – but guess it did make the big list – and side note – I also enjoyed all the hawaii tidbits in the comment section – so nice… 🙂

  6. Très intéressant Mihrank, je ne savais même pas qu’au États-Unis, il y avait eu de si grosses tempêtes de verglas … Ici au Québec, la plus mémorable est celle de 1998, nous avons été privés d’électricité pendant près de deux mois, ça a été très difficile, il y a de nombreux morts, mais nous avons constaté que les Québécois, en situation difficile sont très courageux et généreux. C’est réconfortant de constater cela… Bonne fin de journée mon ami, gros bisous, Gigi 😊

  7. 2002 in North Carolina was the WORST. We were without power for two weeks – used pool water to flush the toilets, a kerosene heater and fire places to warm the house and all slept in one bed for warmth, Life was reduced to chopping wood and stoking the fire and cooking on the grill. We fixed that – got a gas stove and wired a generator into the house to run the heater and the water pump!

  8. Hi thanks for your like on my book A Plymouth Story. It is always good to know peoples opinion on something like this as from an historians point of view it is difficult to find the happy medium between historical/social facts and adventure. I am already working on my next story of that era.

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