The 5 Deadliest Blizzards of All Time

Blizzard in New York City
© lpedan/

Written by Marisa Wilson

Updated: January 23, 2023

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Winter storms can cause great inconvenience and even danger, but some of the worst blizzards in history have caused widespread death and destruction. The so-called No Name Storm hit the northeastern United States in March 1993. With winds reaching up to hurricane force, it produced such high waves that it left behind a swath of damage. 

The Great Blizzard of 1888 was also devastating, causing widespread power outages and transportation disruptions. Even more deadly was the Carolean Death March, a series of blizzards that struck Sweden and killed thousands of people. And a severe winter storm hit Afghanistan, unleashing heavy snowfall and high winds that killed many. 

These examples show that while blizzards may be beautiful to watch, they can also be deadly serious business. What is the fifth blizzard on this list? It’s too bad to mention in the introduction; you’ll have to keep reading to find out. 

The No Name Storm

The Great Blizzard of ’93/1993, also known as The No Name Storm, The 93 Superstorm, or The 1993 Storm of the Century, was a notable cyclonic storm that developed over the Gulf of Mexico on March 12, 1993. The storm, which at its height stretched from Canada to Honduras, was exceptional and noteworthy for its power, immense size, and far-reaching impacts. 

The cyclone passed through the Gulf of Mexico, the eastern United States, and eastern Canada. In the end, the storm vanished in the North Atlantic Ocean. Following this storm, areas of the Southern United States and the Eastern United States experienced record-low temperatures. More than 10 million households in the United States lost electricity due to the storm. There were 208 fatalities due to the storm, which affected an estimated 40% of the nation’s population. 

The storm claimed 318 lives and left $2 billion in damages in 1993. At Mount Le Conte in Tennessee, where 56 inches (140 cm) of snow fell, and on Mount Mitchell in North Carolina, the eastern U.S.’s tallest mountain, 50 inches (130 cm) of snow fell resulting in 15-foot (4.6 m) drifts. The most significant recorded snowfall amounts were both recorded there.

snow blizzard on the highway with truck

Blizzards often bring transportation of goods and people to a complete standstill.

©Vitaliy Kaplin/

The Great Blizzard 

Before the blizzard, the weather was unusually mild, with heavy rains that quickly changed to snow when the temperature plummeted. On March 12, just after midnight, the storm got going and didn’t stop for a whole day and a half. The Great Blizzard of 1888, often referred to as the Great White Hurricane, occurred from March 11 to 14, 1888. The storm immobilized Canada’s Atlantic provinces and the East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine

In some regions of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, there were between 10 and 58 inches (25 and 147 cm) of snowfall, and persistent gusts of over 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) caused snowdrifts to reach heights of more than 50 feet (15 m). People stayed home for up to a week while railroads were shut down. Railway and telegraph lines were cut off, which prompted this underground infrastructure relocation. Additionally impacted were emergency services. In New York, neither rail nor road transportation was feasible for days, and it took eight days to clear drifts from the New York-New Haven rail route in Westport, Connecticut. 

The storm’s impact on transportation contributed to the development of Boston’s first subway system, which opened nine years later. At least 100 sailors perished due to more than 200 ships being grounded or sunk from the Chesapeake Bay through the New England region. The storm and the subsequent cold caused the deaths of more than 400 persons, 200 of whom were located in New York City. The snow was attempted to be pushed towards the Atlantic Ocean.

Carolean Death March

By 1718, Sweden had given up on its eastern lands to Russia after suffering numerous defeats in the Great Northern War. Charles XII of Sweden, unable to take these back because of his weakness, instead planned an attack on Norway to put pressure on Frederick IV of Denmark to make significant concessions during the subsequent peace treaty negotiations. Lieutenant-general Carl Gustaf Armfeldt was instructed to direct his poorly equipped soldiers in a diversionary attack from Jämtland towards Trondheim.

Armfeldt unsuccessfully attempted to take Trondheim in 1718. Then Norwegian army was reduced from 10,000 to 6,000 soldiers due to starvation and bad weather. Armfeldt received notice of Charles’ death on 7 January 1719, when his force was in Haltdalen, Gauldal, with about 6,000 men. He takes a shortcut through the mountains to get to Sweden but finds that there is little snow, so he has to walk instead. In 1719, an army of 5,800 men marched from Haltdalen to Tydal. The Norwegian army left on the morning of 12 January 1719, but they didn’t make it to Handöl in two days due to bad weather. 

Armfeldt was compelled to set up camp on the northern hillside beside the lake Essand due to the consequent poor vision and bitter cold. The soldiers burned their rifle butts and sleds to stay warm, but it had little impact. On this first night, 200 men are thought to have frozen; on January 15 and 16, most survivors reached Handöl. At the peak, about 3,000  were frozen to death. Another 700 soldiers perished as they continued descent to Duved, where lodging had been arranged for them. Of the 2,100 soldiers who survived, about 600 had permanent disabilities.

The Afghanistan Blizzard

Afghanistan often experiences a dry climate with an arid steppe, rendering it vulnerable to chilly winters and snowstorms. It is widely known that Afghanistan’s mountain ranges experience strong winds, which facilitate the development of blizzards. Afghanistan saw a severe blizzard on January 10, 2008, known as the “Afghanistan Blizzard.” 

At least 926 people were killed as temperatures dropped to -22 degrees Fahrenheit and around 70 inches of snow fell in the higher alpine areas. This was one of the top five worst blizzards in history. It was the third. Exposure to extremely low temperatures results in freezing the skin or other tissues; frostbite is a skin injury. Although frostbite can occur on other parts like noses and chins, it affects the hands and feet more often. 

At least 100 patients had their feet amputated due to frostbite at hospitals around the nation, many of whom had been walking barefoot in the bitterly cold muck and snow.  Over 100,000 sheep and goats perished due to the weather, and over 315,000 cattle died. Over 730 houses had also been devastated by avalanches and intense precipitation.

blizzard snow

People walking down a snow-covered road during a blizzard

©Sambulov Yevgeniy/

The Iran Blizzard

The worst blizzard in history occurred in Iran in February 1972.  From February 3rd through 9, 1972, a week of freezing temperatures and violent winter storms claimed the lives of more than 4,000 individuals. In the northwest, center, and south of Iran, storms deposited more than 3 meters (9.8 ft) of snow throughout rural areas. Up to 8 meters (26 feet) of snow fell on southern Iran, burying at least 4,000 people. The city of Ardakan and neighboring villages were the hardest damaged, according to reports from the newspaper Ettela’at, and there were no survivors in Kakkan or Kumar. 

The settlement of Sheklab and its 100 residents were buried in the northwest. By the end of January, western Iran had already had many snowstorms. Between February 3rd and February 8th, a blizzard that moved from Azerbaijan to Iran dumped 7.988 meters of snow—the equivalent of a two-and-a-half story structure. Trees and electricity wires were damaged. In addition to trapping automobiles beneath its weight, the snow buried trains, roads, and numerous settlements. A portion of the site was accessible to rescue helicopters on February 9th during a 24-hour pause. 

First responders discovered significant snowdrifts where there were communities; when these were dug out, frozen remains were frequently found. Before the February 11th blizzard, they found 18 bodies in the village of Sheklab. The rescue personnel was compelled to leave. Two tons of supplies, including bread and dates, were dropped on snowdrifts near settlements by army helicopters. This was done in the belief that if the locals could build a tunnel out of their current places, they would be able to restock themselves. No individuals were able to gain from this. One hundred people lived in Sheklab, but none of them made it.

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About the Author

Creepy-crawly creatures enthrall Marisa. Aside from raising caterpillars, she has a collection of spiders as pets. The brown recluse is her favorite spider of all time. They're just misunderstood. You don't have to worry about squishing the creatures as her catching, and relocating abilities can safely move stray centipedes or snakes to a new location that's not your living room.

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