Winter storms are certainly not news around these parts. We know that heavy snow and blizzard conditions are possible at pretty much any moment during our long winters and too some extent, don’t even phase us all that much anymore. But over the course of the history of Wisconsin, we’ve been hit by some pretty big, scary and devastating storms. From snow to ice and high wind gusts, the conditions here during a winter storm can be pretty overwhelming. Based on state weather records, here are some of the biggest winter storms to his our state over the past 150 years or so:
1. March 1881
The south and central parts of the state were hit with 2 to 4 feet of snow. Winds created drifts to 20 feet. Milwaukee reported 28.5 inches of snow in 48 hours. Between February 24 and March 20, 1881, Milwaukee received 63.7 inches of snow. Although this blizzard happened before official record-keeping began, it is thought to be the worst snowstorm ever to hit Madison. Over a three day period, 28 1/2 inches of snow fell in the city.
2. December 1904
This storm brought heavy snow and ice and still stands as the single largest 24-hour snowfall, with 26 inches falling in Neillsville in Clark County.
3. November 1940
Known as the Armistice Day Blizzard, this storm brought heavy snow with winds of 50 to 80 mph causing 10 to 20 foot drifts. It shut down much of the Midwest, from Minnesota down to Chicago, In Milwaukee, the streetcars were stranded, cars were stuck where they stood. There were 13 deaths attributed to this storm.
4. November 1943
Many of the biggest storms seem to only hit a portion of the state, but the coverage of this giant storm was statewide. The heavy snow was accompanied by ice, making travel treacherous. There were only 10 to 18 inches of snow, but combined with the ice, it was difficult to clean up. Roads blocked for several days.
5. January 1947
This is said to be the longest lasting blizzard on record in southern Wisconsin. There were 18-27 inches of snow across the state and strong northwesterly winds caused 10 to 15 foot drifts.
6. November 1975
The northern half of the state was hit with a storm that brought 10 to 14 inches, which wasn't too abnormal for this part of the state, but it was accompanied by hurricane-force winds along Lake Superior that created an absolute whiteout. This early winter storm is the one that caused the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
7. March 1976
This late winter storm was one of the worst natural disasters in state history. A huge ice storm snapped utility poles - the ice was up to five inches thick on wires and trees. This storm was a weird mix of Spring thunderstorm and winter in Wisconsin where the ice just kept building up and 60 mph winds didn't help. Some rural parts of the state ended up being without power for 10 days and 21 state counties were declared federal disaster zones.
8. March 1997
West central and northeast Wisconsin got hit with a large late winter storm that helped set new state records for snowfall. Some places saw a foot of snow, but Wautoma got hit with more than 28 inches of snow. That year, Hurley set a record for most snowfall in a season, collecting nearly 278 inches of snow over the course of the winter.
9. January 1999
Some spots only received a few inches, but the totals of this blizzard reached up to 20 inches. Drifts were in excess of 4-8 feet thanks to winds of 35 mph inland and gusts near 60 mph on Lake Michigan. With temperatures down around 15 degrees, it was a dangerous and difficult situation.
10. February 2007
This was a double-whammy, with two different storms hitting over the course of 72 hours. Near La Crosse, they saw as much as 15 inches from the first storm and then 12 more from the second storm. The storms cut straight across the central part of the state, with Green Bay and parts of Door County seeing the same two foot totals that La Crosse did.
11. February 2008
This storm will be remembered for the massive interstate backups that occurred. Snow accumulating was between 10 and 21 inches, but a jackknifed semi-trailer on Hwy 39/90 in Dane County caused backups up and down the system for nearly a day. Reports say more than 1000 semi trucks and nearly 500 personal vehicles were stuck for anywhere from 10 to 20 hours as folks were stuck in their vehicles overnight. Wind gusts of 40-50 mph did not help the situation. This storm helped Madison set their record snowfall of 101.4 inches for the 2007-2008 season.
12. March 2011
This late season storm was the result of two pressure areas colliding over Wisconsin. The central part of the state as nailed with 12-18 inches of snow plus ice and sleet. An Eau Claire broadcast tower was felled by the icy storm. In Green Bay, they accumulated 17.8 inches of snow over the course of the storm, making it the biggest storm to hit there in more than 100 years. It was the first time Green Bay had seen accumulations of more than 10 inches three different times in the same season.
Do you remember any of these storms? Or is there another big storm that you remember that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments.