Looking Back at Five of the Most Destructive Thanksgiving Storms

Posted: November 22, 2023 6:49 am

The shoulder season of Thanksgiving can bring a wide variety of weather impacts to the U.S. ranging from hurricanes to blizzards. Here are a few of the most historic Thanksgiving storms in history.

Thanksgiving Tornadic Outbreak – 1926

A total of 14 tornadoes touched down across the South during an infamous Thanksgiving Day severe weather outbreak in 1926. This outbreak killed 64 people over the course of the six-hour event. 53 of these fatalities happened in Portland, Arkansas with another 11 deaths in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana. Scores of people were also injured as the twisters ravaged the area.

It is important to note that this was well before the advent of warning systems, leaving people more vulnerable than they would be today. The outbreak was responsible for about $630,000 in damage, the equivalent to over $9 million in today’s dollars.

Northeast Snow Storm – 1989

A monster snow storm slammed into the Northeast on Thanksgiving Day of 1989. New York City was on the receiving end of a record 4.7 inches of snow for that date in history. Neighboring Newark, New Jersey recorded 6 inches of snow. Up until that day, neither of these cities had seen snow on Thanksgiving. Providence, Rhode Island also got in on the action with 8 inches of snow, shattering the record for snowfall over any day in the month of November.

Not surprisingly, the storm created a number of headaches for travelers trying to get home after the holiday. In addition, the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan was forced to deal with frost all over the iconic balloons. While the Northeast saw the brunt of the storm’s impacts, the snow expanded as far south as Virginia and eventually stretched up into Maine.


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Great Thanksgiving Weekend Blizzard – 1983

The Denver area is certainly known for snow but nothing has quite compared to what is now referred to as the Great Thanksgiving Weekend Blizzard of 1983. Although the actual holiday was spared, the snow hit two days after Thanksgiving thanks to a significant cold front that pushed down from the Rockies.

Denver’s Stapleton International Airport was forced to close for 24 hours after 18 inches of snow piled up on the runways. Nearby Commerce City saw 15 inches of snow while Chatfield Reservoir recorded a whopping 28 inches. The majority of the city’s highways were closed as road crews struggled to keep up with the snow removal. The snow was so deep that it took over two months for it to melt completely. The city of Denver said that they spent about $1.5 million on snow removal.

Thanksgiving Eve Snow Storm – 1971

Flakes started flying on Thanksgiving Eve in 1971 across much of the interior Northeast. Northeastern Pennsylvania and parts of upstate New York were in the primary impact zone of this storm. The snow intensified in the overnight hours, leaving a wintry wonderland on Thanksgiving morning.

Snow totals hit up to 30 inches in the hardest hit areas. Albany, New York recorded over 22 inches of accumulation. Because the temperatures were just barely below the freezing mark, the snow was wet and heavy rather than dry and powdery. This heavy snow triggered roof collapses and knocked down trees and power lines.

Hawaiian Hurricane – 1982

Snow is not the only severe weather event that you can expect around Thanksgiving. The Hawaiian Islands got hit with Hurricane Iwa on Thanksgiving Day of 1982. The western islands of Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, and Oʻahu saw wind gusts up to 105 mph that paired with a storm surge of 6 to 8 feet.

The hurricane was responsible for damaging or destroying over 2,000 structures. Over 500 people were left homeless and at least one death was blamed on the high seas generated by the storm.

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