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The 2014 Farmers Almanac
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Top 10 Cities Where Weather Shuts Down Everyday Life

Top 10 Cities Where Weather Shuts Down Everyday Life

In this day and age, it’s hard to believe that weather still shuts down some of our major cities, but it does. While you may think that all of the cities that we name would be in the northern section of the country, you may be surprised at what cities came out on our list. Read on!

1. WASHINGTON, D.C.- Before the recent winter of 2009—2010, this city had seen some heavy snowfalls, but they were usually few and far between. There was the legendary Knickerbocker Storm of 1922, which dropped 28 inches and caused the collapse of the Knickerbocker Theater, killing 98 people. Then there were two Presidents’ Day storms, 1979 and 2003, each dropping about two feet of snow. The D.C. area had seen more than a foot of snow only 13 times since 1870, according to the National Weather Service. Again, that was before 2009—2010. But that winter, actually before winter officially began, a severe storm dropped 18 inches on the city, on December 19, 2009; a portent of things to come. In early February, two major storms combined to shut down Washington for several days. On February 5, the city was hit hard by its fourth heaviest snowfall, with nearly 18 inches recorded at Reagan National Airport. At nearby Dulles International Airport, the record was shattered by a huge 32-inch snowfall. President Obama called this storm “Snowmageddon,”while others named it “Snowpocalypse.” And if that wasn’t enough, just four days later, another massive snowfall hit, dropping 12 to 18 more inches across the region, also earning the nicknames “Snoverkill” and “Snomageddon 2.0.” The result of all this was a complete shutdown of the nation’s capital: flights were cancelled; schools were closed; and the federal government sent workers home, where they were stuck for several days, because the region was ill-equipped to deal with so much snow. Even the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) closed all federal agencies in the Washington, D.C., area for several days. And Amtrak stopped most trains headed south from Washington, affecting fans going to the Super Bowl in Miami.

2. CHICAGO, Illinois – Natives of the Windy City are certainly used to wintry weather. Usually, their typical winters average 38 inches of snow, which falls in light accumulations. But every three or so years, Chicago experiences a storm that deposits 10 or more inches of snow over a span of a few days. It is rare when snow freezes Chicago to a standstill, but there have been some notable instances. On January 26, 1967, 23 inches of snow stranded thousands in offices, in schools, and on buses. About 50,000 abandoned cars and 800 buses littered the streets and expressways. On January 13—14, 1979, a blizzard hit Chicago, leaving 19 inches of snow and an afterperiod of unrelenting bitterly cold weather. Much of that snow remained unplowed for many weeks, causing ongoing transit delays and significant problems with trash collecting. Just as happened to New York’s Mayor Lindsay ten years earlier, Chicago’s inadequate response to the blizzard was blamed primarily on Mayor Michael Blandic. More recently, on February 1, 2011, over 20 inches of snow fell, accompanied by 70-m.p.h. winds, causing hundreds of cars to be abandoned along Lake Shore Drive and bringing Chicago–a city that prides itself on its ability to conquer any snowstorm that happens to it–to a complete stop.

3. ATLANTA, Georgia - “The Big Peach” is located in the foothills of the southern Appalachians, and the mountains to the north tend to obstruct southward moving frigid polar air masses. As a consequence, Atlanta winters are usually rather mild. Cold spells are not unusual, but they are rather short-lived and seldom disrupt outdoor activities for any extended period of time. The average annual snowfall varies widely from year to year, with a snowfall of 4 inches or more occurring about every five years. Heavy snowstorms, on January 12, 1982 (six inches that coincided with the afternoon rush hour), on March 13, 1993 (a rare blizzard), and on January 9, 2011 (snow mixed with ice), all brought the city to a halt. Some say the 2011 storm was the worst storm that has ever hit the area. Ice storms and freezing rain or glaze occur in this Georgia city two out of every three years, causing hazardous travel and disrupting its utilities. Severe ice storms occur about every ten years, causing major disruptions to businesses and utilities and significant property damage. Among the worst was the severe ice storm of January 8, 1973, when 300,000 people went without power for more than a week. More recently, a storm on December 15, 2010, left a leaf-thin sheet of black ice coating the roads, just as dusk fell on the height of rush hour, causing more than 1,000 accidents as motorists slid off roads or crashed into each other. In many cases, people simply abandoned their cars.

4. NEW YORK, New York - In spite of being “the city that never sleeps,” a good snowstorm can shut down a big portion of this nation’s largest metropolitan area. Located in the Northeast, the city is no stranger to winter storms, but two in particular stopped life in the Big Apple. The first was the “Lindsay Storm” on February 9, 1969. That was a storm that local weather forecasters felt would fall primarily as rain after a brief start as snow. The storm began early on Sunday morning as snow, but never changed to rain, with snow falling at better than an inch per hour. The N.Y. Sanitation Department, whose job it is to clear streets and roadways, was slow in getting out the snowplows, and, ultimately, major thoroughfares became clogged with snow. Some locations, such as the borough of Queens, received more than 20 inches and were nearly paralyzed. New York Mayor John Lindsay ran into political misfortune after some sections of the city remained unplowed for a week. More recently, on the day after Christmas in 2010–also a Sunday– a blizzard enveloped the city, dropping about two feet of snow. While this storm was anticipated (the Daily News blared “BLIZZARD COMING!” on its front page), city officials, for unknown reasons, failed to declare a snow emergency and were unprepared for the tremendous snowfall, which reached two feet in some areas. Trains were frozen to platforms, the major airports were shut down until six o’clock the next evening, and many minor streets went days before they were plowed.

5. LOS ANGELES, California – In the City of Angels, weather can be anything but angelic. This city can experience dynamic changes, between mild sea breezes from the Pacific Ocean and either hot or cold winds from the interior, which results in a variety of weather conditions. Like most other Pacific Coast areas, Los Angeles receives most of its rainfall during the winter, with nearly 85 percent of the annual total occurring from November through March. It is also during the winter that destructive flash floods occur. A standout in recent weather annals is the pre-Christmas storm of December 23, 2010. This storm caused tremendous flooding in Los Angeles and much of southern California. The amount of rain that fell on Los Angeles in the span of one week equated to half the annual rainfall that the city typically receives (7.96 inches in downtown Los Angeles). In outlying communities, homes and cars were awash in mud; and hillsides pushed onto major highways, flooding urban streets and threatening a countless number of homes. The Pacific Coast Highway was closed and tens of thousands were without power.

6. DALLAS, Texas - It may be hard to believe that any town in the warm state of Texas would have winter worries. After all, Dallas is categorized as “humid-subtropical,” with hot summers. But while winters are usually mild, and its snowfalls average only 3 or 4 inches about two or three times each month from late December through mid-March, this region can be invaded by “Blue Northers.” These sharp cold fronts that sweep from north to south across Texas cause a sudden drop in temperature, sometimes up to 25 degrees F within one hour. Brief periods of extreme cold, with temperatures plummeting through the 20s, the teens and even the single digits, are followed by deep blue skies. If a storm emerges from the Gulf of Mexico and happens to interact with such a sweep of cold air, the result can be a devastating, life-stopping winter storm. An excellent example came on January 10, 2011, when just such a combination crippled the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Up to a half-foot of snow and ice shut down a majority of the school districts and severely disrupted businesses; everybody acknowledged the dangers in driving over iced bridges and passages. Thousands of residents were affected by power shortages, schools and businesses closed, and thousands of flights were canceled

7. BOSTON , Massachusetts - In almost 100 years of National Weather Service records, Boston had not experienced a single snowfall of 20 inches or more, until February 24—28, 1969, when a long-duration (100-hour) storm dropped 26.3 inches. But even that storm didn’t completely stop the city. On February 6—7, 1978, one of the most intense storms of the 20th century hit the Northeast U.S., accompanied by hurricane-force winds and record-breaking snowfalls. Boston was recovering from a mammoth snowstorm it had gotten 17 days earlier, which had dropped 21.5 inches. Then they had to deal with a storm that ultimately dropped 27.1 inches. Some parts of nearby Rhode Island recorded an incredible 50 inches. Across all of southern New England, including Boston, businesses and schools were shut down for a week or more by the “Blizzard of ’78.”

8. NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana – We could not talk about weather closing down a city without mentioning the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. The New Orleans metropolitan area is virtually surrounded by water. Lake Pontchartrain borders the city on the north, while in other directions there are bayous, lakes and marshy deltas. A massive levee system surrounding the city and along the Mississippi River seemingly offered protection against river flooding and tidal surges. But that was before Katrina. Hurricane Katrina was the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States. On August 29, 2005, the Category 3 hurricane, with winds of 125 m.p.h., made landfall in southeast Louisiana, near the city of Buras-Triumph. It caused severe destruction along the Gulf Coast, much of it due to storm surge. The surge was pushed into New Orleans, where the levee system catastrophically failed, in many cases hours after the storm had moved inland. The surge caused more than 50 breaches in the levee system; eventually 80 percent of the city and large tracts of the neighboring parishes became flooded. With some parts under 15 feet of water, the floodwaters lingered for weeks. Many who remained in their homes had to swim for their lives, wade through deep water, or remain trapped in their attics or on their rooftops. As this was being written, nearly six years later, thousands of displaced residents in Louisiana were still living in temporary accommodations.

9. ST. LOUIS, Missouri - In a city where 18 to 21 inches of snow fall during a typical winter, January 30—31, 1982, saw a once-in-70-years snow event occur, with 18 to 21 inches of snow blanketing St. Louis. According to the National Weather Service, this snowstorm was “remarkable and crippling to the St. Louis metropolitan area.” The snow paralyzed the area, with government offices, many businesses, and schools canceling work or classes for as long as a week, after the snow ended. The airport, Amtrak, and bus services were shut down. As many as 4,000 motorists were stranded on highways because of blizzard-like conditions over the region. Many people became stranded for days, with hospital and emergency workers working two and three shifts because their coworkers were unable to make it to work. The Missouri National Guard was eventually called in to ease a disastrous situation, while residents of the Gateway City helped each other dig out from their worst snowstorm since February 20, 1912.

10. BUFFALO, New York – If there is one city that certainly knows snow, it’s Buffalo. “The City of Good Neighbors” is situated on the eastern shore of Lake Erie. When winter begins to settle in, cold winds that blow across the lake can pick up moisture and deposit it onshore in the form of heavy snow showers and squalls. If the winds are persistent and blow for many hours, the snow amounts can become substantial and measured in feet. Even so, there have only been a few cases where snow has brought this city to a complete halt. During January 28—31, 1977, it wasn’t so much the snow (only 10 inches fell) as it was the sustained winds that blew at the near-hurricane force of 69 m.p.h. Lake Erie was actually frozen over, but was covered with 33 inches of puffy snow that the winds picked up to create whiteout conditions which brought everything to a complete standstill. Eight years later, on January 18, 1985, Buffalo was hit by the “Six-Pack Blizzard.” The city was buried by 33 inches of snow, combined with winds gusting to over 50 m.p.h. Why “Six Pack”? Because at the height of the storm, Mayor Jimmy Griffin urged his constituents to “Stay inside, grab a sixpack, and watch a good football game.” Finally, on November 20—23, 2000, a 60- hour lake-effect snowstorm dumped nearly 3 feet of snow. The storm had frequent lightning and thunder. The most intense snowfall coincided with the afternoon drive, and area workers leaving work early clogged the roads. Thousands were reported to have spent the night in autos or stores.

Did we forget any cities? Be sure to share your thoughts and opinions about cities that shut down when bad weather hits below!

34 comments

1 Mark Boston { 01.22.13 at 1:17 pm }

So Boston’s been relatively pleasant in the last few years. Yes we still have days filled with Canadian air flow that can drop temps in the single digits over night but then the next day the jet stream will grab us for highs in the low 60s in December January and February. I keep my motorcycle on the road all year round for these days because last year and the year before have been unbelievably mild with stretches of warm weather , while is cold and snowing to our south, absolutely mind boggling. Last year we totaled 4 inches or so for the whole season by 2 storms one in early October one in late November but it was gone the next day. That’s what’s been happening lately, it will snow and then it vanishes in a few days sometimes in a day because it will be 50. This year it’s been a little more normal with arctic blasts that last weeks highs below freezing and snow so far we’ve had three little storms 5 inches then 3 and last night about two. Next week highs are in the upper 40s and ill probably be cruising around.

2 Jane Hanlon { 09.19.12 at 9:51 pm }

I live on the Kansas side of the Metro Kansas City Area, and we still have yet to learn how to drive on ice. Sometimes we get snow, but most of our winters in the last few years have either been bitterly dry and cold, or icy.

3 bren { 09.18.12 at 9:05 am }

I live in Buffalo and yes we get our share of snow but when we got an early snow in 2007 it shut down everything. I was at work and couldn’t leave. Felled trees etc. Was horrible. The leaves were still on the trees it was early October. In 2000 it was November Thanksgiving time. My grandson was born October and the family was coming for the holidays and only a few were able to make it. However there are two places where the snow was a surprise. I was living in Clovis New Mexico which is close to Amarillo made Buffalo look like the tropics( anyone remember the old western movies and the cattle drives through the snow?) Then it was Michigan Northern was horrible. My bones are older now sure wish for a deprive like last year.

4 jb { 08.22.12 at 8:04 pm }

I agree with Jessica from Chi town, born and raised in Chicago, winter is blistering!!

5 shantele { 07.25.12 at 11:36 pm }

One word… Minnesota.. we shut down after 3 feet of snow.. and it is 100 with 70 degree dew points’ so we have it all!

6 Jake Mogenis { 01.16.12 at 7:05 pm }

It never snowed this winter

7 blues boy willie { 12.29.11 at 11:51 pm }

I40 from texas to memphis at the of january. Prayying for good weather and good roads.

8 Jessica { 12.20.11 at 12:12 am }

Chicago is going to be listed no matter what it’s the 3rd biggest city in the us. And until you’ve survived a Chicago winter I wouldn’t say anything because they are very harsh. There are days it’s folder there than the norh pole!

9 Talesha { 12.07.11 at 3:45 pm }

Ummm here in seattle we get an inch of snow… And we are screwed…. It cus here the snow dosent say snow very often… It turn into slush and then the sluah freezes again and it turns into hard thick ice….. And you cant drive on ice…. Here in seattle we can drive in heavvvy rain wind sun….just about anything… But garenntied if it snows eve. Just a little, our citie shut down…. From everett to tacoma…. Our freeways everywhere…..

10 Leigh { 11.12.11 at 7:26 pm }

I think someone should write a corresponding list of the most resilyent cities. you know, the energizer bunny cities that just keep going and going and going.. Lol

11 blake { 10.31.11 at 10:51 pm }

What about san diegos crazy weather lol

12 Tammy { 10.24.11 at 2:05 pm }

I live in a small town called Deep Creek Lake Md. Our winters can be very fierce and the winter of 2010 was no exception, It snows a great deal and we like that since we do have a ski resort but that winter we got snow, snow, snow with 50″ on a Friday in February and the following Wednesday another 50″. People still got out to work on Friday but come Wednesday everything was at a standstill.

13 Jason { 10.02.11 at 12:29 pm }

I see some people claiming city “shut down” on areas with less snowfall than the typical NE areas. Having lived in central North Carolina for over 30 years, I can say that (especially that Richmond, VA shutting down comment) that rarely, if ever, these cities actually “shut down”. Yes, believe it or not, central NC is no stranger by any means to annual snowfall, more times than not 4-6″ at once not uncommon either. Sure, grocery stores run low on products on occasion with the threat of winter weather. But I’ve seen as little as nothing to as much as over 2 feet of snow. And the hell with what falls at the airports. If I can measure at various locations in different areas of town with 24″+, then it was officially (to me, family, & friends) more than two feet. I’ve never actually seen a city “shut-down”. At worst, schools close (reasonably), doctors offices close, and sometimes city/county government will close (or at least opperate on a delay). The worst I’ve seen was when we received snow every Wednesday for about 4 weeks straight. Schools were closed for the majority of that time frame and we hated having school through most of June due to it! Part of my job entails clearing snow/ice during the winter and it’s rare indeed that anyone says they couldn’t make it to work, even if there is 12″ of snow on top of 1/4″ of ice pack on the roads. Oh, and to the comment about TX; You do realize that northern TX gets snowfall every year, right?

14 Laurie { 09.15.11 at 1:54 pm }

I live in Upstate New York, and we may not be Buffalo or New York City, but we are in the Adirondacks, where God perfected his snow machine and we’re blessed with it October to May and in the summer we have temps that can be 100 one day and 60 the next-in fact, we are well known for several days in the year with 30 degree drops in one day. This year, we had two 500 year floods in a two week period-I should know, I was evacuated twice and had my home damaged. I think at least Albany, NY, which is 50 miles south of us, should be on the list because if you don’t like the weather in the Great Northeast, wait a minute – it changes. As for shutting down the city, it never happens…snow, flood, rain, heat, whatever-it never happens in the Great Northeast.

15 Sandy { 09.15.11 at 10:50 am }

Um, yeah….did you forget Seattle on there? With all our hills, when the streets ice up under the snow (and it could be just a thin sheet), it’s a you-tube video just waiting to be made! In fact one Seattleite set his video to music last year! One car after another, sliding right into each other.

16 Max { 09.09.11 at 9:51 pm }

Jenn, you summed it up in those two words.Country folk can survive!!!!

17 Tara { 09.09.11 at 6:53 pm }

Hey remember that time it snowed an inch in Texas and the entire state stopped for a week? Yeah…they should be higher on this list than Chicago

18 Dave { 09.09.11 at 12:09 pm }

This guy doesn’t know whats he is talking about to include Buffalo and Chicago on the list. Sometimes I think these list makers include a couple of crazy picks to drum up buzz about the lists.

19 Najja { 09.08.11 at 5:33 pm }

I live in Philadelphia, a transplant from Chicago 21 years ago and when we got here, the top story of the day was rain; that was the funniest thing I’d heard. This city shuts down for any reason, there’s no solution for anything and if the trend continues here with the heavy snow we’ve had, City Hall is going to have to provide a viable solution that works. Oh yeah, I so remember that 1967 snowstorm in Chicago; only time I recall the city shutting down.

20 Dawn { 09.08.11 at 3:04 pm }

I live in San Antonio, TX, where the mention of snow or ice empty store shelves in a few hours. Those of you from the North don’t understand that cities in the South are not equipped with the equipment to clear the streets when there is an inch or two of snow. Also, people here do not know how to drive in snow and ice. Remember you have practice each winter. Bet you couldn’t live through a summer of 100+ degrees from May through August. We each have our own challenges!

21 Sue Lani Madsen { 09.08.11 at 12:41 am }

6 inches of snow and Seattle panics, should have them on the list instead of Chicago.

22 Helene Jolley { 09.07.11 at 2:16 pm }

What??? Boston??? I live in Philadelphia, which shuts down completely before the snow even stops falling. I’ve been in Boston for 2 major storms and absolutely nothing stops. Those tiny streets are completely cleared and transportation keeps running, while in Philly, they never even get touched and you have to walk home.

23 Ms Mariette { 09.07.11 at 11:57 am }

All of you are phunny!

24 Danny { 09.07.11 at 11:26 am }

I can tell by the way this article was written that Caleb has never lived in Chicago. I like many people I know worked the day of the blizzard and days following. This town does not shut down like she says. Her facts were examples that were more than 10 years apart. So many places in this country where schools and businesses are cancelled at the thought of snow and cold weather. Definitely not at #2 in this country. Wondering where she came up with this.

25 Elizabeth White { 09.07.11 at 11:05 am }

White Juan of 2004 in Halifax Nova Scotia, Mother Nature dumped 95 centimetres of snow on us thus paralysing the city for nearly a week. Many stores had to throw out their meats and other perishable items due to no power. Here’s a wikipedia article – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Juan

26 Kelly { 09.07.11 at 10:30 am }

Who came up with this list?? I’ve lived in Chicago most of my life. While plowing city streets is a logistic nightmare, the suburbs and highways are handled with brisk efficiency.I spent 4 years in Minnesota and 2 in Pennsylvania (Harrisburg area: freaked out by snow). Chicago handles snow 100 times better than MN, which I didn’t expect at all! Residents of MN are actually disappointed if they don’t get snowed in several times a year! Really, whoever made this list shouldn’t have included ANY states that receive snow on a regular basis. Get real!!!

27 Teresa { 09.07.11 at 10:05 am }

I live in the Pittsburgh region and we’ve had many winters where everthing shuts down, especially in Feb. with so much snow. The winter of 2009-2010 we had snow almost everyday for months. It was unbelievable. Seems to be the trend here right now, rather than like the previous years with just a little snow.

28 Janelle Lackey { 09.07.11 at 9:52 am }

April 27, 2011. When tornadoes ripped through Alabama, the whole north part of Alabama was put out of power for 3 and a 1/2 days. Thousands and thousands of people lost perishable foods.

29 Tracey { 09.07.11 at 9:15 am }

I am from a little town called East Prairie, Missouri (southeast Missouri) where during the time of season changes one day can be in the 90′s and the very next day in the 50′s. We hardly get snow but if we do, we are the ones clearing out the local grocery stores of their bread and milk. One winter my parents went to Seattle Washington to visit my grandfather who was in a hospital there. We laugh about this all of the time but they showed up at the hospital in turtle neck sweaters, wool coats and fur lined gloves while everyone else might be in shorts and sandals.

30 Jack { 09.02.11 at 4:24 pm }

It’s a small city, but Oswego, N. Y. shows up in a web search moments ago with 140.3″ per year annual snowfall. Oswego is on the east end of Lake Ontario. Syracuse, not far away and where I lived for 13 years, averages around 130″. I was living in Boston during Feb. 1978 when two closely-spaced storms piled a total of over 50″ of new snow on top of prior accumulated snowfall. It took a week to clear our street, and until that was accomplished, people walking up and down the center of the street looked about ten feet tall – very strange!

31 Mel Free { 09.01.11 at 2:13 pm }

I agree. I now live in the Syracuse area. They know how to live with all of the snow on a daily basis. I lived in Maryland & if you even said SNOW everyone panicked & cleared out all the stores of everything from food, toilet paper, water, to snow melt. They have only a few snowplows & those are in Baltimore. It was THE END OF THE WORLD!!.. lol..

32 Kristen Johnson { 09.01.11 at 12:10 pm }

Buffalo? Come on folks — Buffalo has less snow than many places in western, central, and northern New York. What about Syracuse??? (see http://www.buffaloresearch.com/snow.html). And places like Chicago and Buffalo (and even Syracuse) at least know how to deal with snow during an ordinary winter, as compared to places like D.C., which shuts down if there is more than a trace of snow.

There’s a difference between cities that have problems dealing with weather “everyday” and cities that have been shut down as a result of extraordinary conditions even for their locales.

33 Kris { 09.01.11 at 11:58 am }

You forgot Richmond, VA, which will shut down and clean out the grocery stores on the *prediction* of snow. 1/2″ will bring transportation to a halt, and the evil Yankees that go outside and say “what’s the big deal?” get shunned

34 Jenn { 09.01.11 at 10:59 am }

Two words…… CITY FOLK

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