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 , 10:02 PM GMT on December 20, 2016
U.S. 24-hour State and City Snowfall Records
Winter has descended with a vengeance for much of the nation this December. Although heavy snow has fallen in many areas no all-time snow records have yet been set so far with the exception of Binghamton, New York where a new single-storm snowfall record of 27.6” occurred on November 19-22. However, the city’s 24-hour snowfall record of 23.0” on February 2-3, 1961 was not matched. Here is a brief summary of the greatest 24-hour snowfall records set in each state and at a selection of 70 or so major sites in the U.S.
There is, of course, a difference between calendar day precipitation records and 24-hour precipitation records. Extreme precipitation events (whether rain or snow) do not normally confine themselves to the convenient time frame of a single calendar day. Therefore, in order to show the true magnitude of a heavy precipitation event it is necessary to look at a single 24-hour period even though it may span across two calendar days. Many NWS sites in the U.S. keep track of their 24-hour vs. calendar day precipitation records but just as many do not. In the latter cases it takes some research to figure out just how much snow or rain accumulated over the course of a 24-hour period. I’ve done my best, as illustrated in the tables below, to accomplish this so far as record 24-hour snowfalls are concerned.
What is the Greatest 24-hour Snowfall on record for the U.S.?
There are two contenders for this title. The most commonly accepted figure is the 75.8” of snow that fell in 24 hours at Silver Lake, Colorado on April 14-15, 1921. The other option is a 78.0” total measured at Mile 47 Camp, Alaska on February 7, 1963. The Silver Lake record is what the NCEC (National Climate Extremes Committee) accepts as the official national record despite the SCEC (State Climate Extremes Committee) claiming the Mile 47 Camp figure as the official record for Alaska. The contradiction between these two official NOAA bodies is not clearly understood. In November 2014, Alaskan climatologist Brian Brettschneider researched and penned a guest blog for me on the subject. The conclusions were, well, not conclusive. Here is the entire blog (unfortunately without its images which the WU server no longer supports) for those who would like to know more about the Mile 47 Camp event.
The 75.8” Silver Lake, Colorado event is less controversial. The storm total was 95.0” over 32½ hours and another location in the area, Fry’s Ranch, measured 62” in just 22 hours.
Storm precipitation (melted—inches) total for the Silver Lake event of April 14-15, 1921. Silver Lake (elevation 10,220’) received 6.40” of melted precipitation (95” of snow) during the storm and Fry’s Ranch (elevation 7,500’) 7.65” and a snowfall total of 62”. Map from ‘Monthly Weather Review’, Feb. 1953, p. 39. The entire MWR article about the Silver Lake event can be found here..
There is actually a third contender for the title of greatest U.S. snowfall in 24-hours on record although it has been officially disqualified by the NCEC as a result of a technicality (one too many measurements were made by the observer over the course of 24 hours). The NWS COOP snow spotter in Montague Township, New York (in the Tug Hill Plateau region east of Lake Ontario) measured 77.0” of snowfall in a single 24-hour period on January 11-12, 1997.
This photograph was taken during the remarkable snowstorm at Montague Township, New York in January 1997, when an unofficial 77” of snow accumulated in just 24 hours. Photograph courtesy of Cheryl Boughton).
The storm total at Montague for the entire storm, which lasted (on and off) for five days was 90.5”. The NCEC special report and evaluation of this event can be found here. Thomas Niziol, The Weather Channel’s winter weather expert, is cited in this report in his capacity as the lead forecaster at the NWS-Buffalo office where he was employed at the time.
There have, of course, been other anecdotal reports of even greater snowfalls than those cited above, including an 84” snowfall in 24 hours reported by the California Highway Patrol Depart at Crestview during the famous Sierra blizzard of January 14-15, 1952.
City and State 24-hour Snowfall Records
In the tables below I have attempted to compile the greatest 24-hour snowfalls by state and by city (a selection of 70 or so significant cities and sites across the country). The data is derived from various sources: NOAA’s NCEI Snowfall Extremes web site, NOAA’s SCEC State Climate Extremes web site, various NWS individual regional web sites, and research I have done myself. In my own research I have found some errors imbedded in the data on the above-mentioned NOAA web sites. The Snowfall Extremes data has not been quality controlled as some simple investigations can make obvious. The State Climate Extreme’s data has some other errors and omissions. However, the ‘official’ records for each state’s 24-hour snowfalls are contained in that list.
In the tables below, the figures are in inches and tenths of inches. BTW, don’t ask me how anyone can accurately measure snow depth to the tenth of an inch since many if not most individual snowflakes have a diameter greater than a tenth of an inch.
For the cities listed below I have not included snowstorms prior to the beginning of their official POR’s (periods of record). Cincinnati, Ohio, for instance, had a reliably measured 20.0” of snow in 24 hours on January 14-15, 1863. The modern figure I show in the table below may be for period of time a bit more than 24 hours. I have not been able to confirm just how much of this 18.5” fell in a single 24-hour period on February 4-5, 1998.
KUDOS: Thanks, once again, to Mark Stroud at Moon Street Cartography for producing the tables above.
Christopher C. Burt
The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.