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Worst Thanksgiving storms in US history

These are five of the most destructive storms on record to hit the U.S. on or around Thanksgiving Day.

Northeast snowstorm, Nov. 23, 1989

Thanksgiving Day 1989, a powerful storm produced record snowfall in New York City and Newark, New Jersey, which received 4.7 and 6 inches, respectively. That’s more than either city had ever seen on Thanksgiving. In Providence, Rhode Island, the same storm system produced 8 inches of snow, which was not only a record for Thanksgiving, but for any day in November.

According to a UPI report that day, the storm complicated the holiday travel crunch, frosting the oversized balloons in New York City’s annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and causing at least three deaths. Snow also fell as far south as Virginia and as far north as Maine.

Great Thanksgiving Weekend Blizzard, Nov. 26, 1983

The Great Thanksgiving Weekend Blizzard of 1983 hit Denver two days after Thanksgiving. A monster cold front blew through the Front Range of the Rockies, bringing the Mile High City and most of the state to a standstill. Commerce City reported 15 inches of snow, Chatfield Reservoir picked up 28 inches and Stapleton International Airport had to shut down for 24 hours with up to 18 inches of snow on the runways.

Denver neighborhood buried in snow during the Nov. 26, 1983, Thanksgiving weekend blizzard. (Photo: Cal Wolf)

Almost all the highways in the Denver metropolitan area were shut down. The snow was so bad that businesses had to close and several high school football games were canceled. The snow stuck around for a whopping 63 days and snow removal reportedly cost the city $1.5 million.

Northeast snowstorm Nov. 25, 1971

The night before Thanksgiving in 1971, snow began to fall in parts of the Northeast, including Pennsylvania. The snow became more intense throughout the night, and by the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day, snow totals across the state ranged from 20 to 30 inches. The biggest amounts piled up in northeastern Pennsylvania, but Albany, New York, also got slammed, with a snow total of 22.7 inches.

This was extremely wet, heavy snow, as temperatures through much of the storm hovered around 31 degrees. If temperatures had been lower, the snow would have been drier and lighter. The weight of the snow caused barn roofs to collapse, snapped off tree branches and knocked down power lines.

Hawaii hurricane, Nov. 25, 1982

A hurricane is a terrible thing any day of the year, but especially around Thanksgiving. This is what happened on Thanksgiving Day 1982 when powerful Hurricane Iwa hit the western Hawaiian Islands with wind gusts up to 105 mph and storm surge of 6 to 8 feet. The hurricane devastated the islands of Niʻihau, Kauaʻi and Oʻahu.

Crew cleaning up debris after Hurricane Iwa hit Hawaii Thanksgiving Day 1982. (Photo: U.S. National Archive)

The first significant hurricane to hit the Hawaiian Islands since statehood in 1959, Iwa severely damaged or destroyed 2,345 buildings, including 1,927 houses, leaving 500 people homeless. Damage throughout the state totaled $312 million, equivalent to $837 million in 2021. One person was killed from the high seas and three deaths were indirectly related to the hurricane’s aftermath.

Thanksgiving Day tornado outbreak, Nov. 25, 1926

Thanksgiving Day 1926, 14 tornadoes terrorized parts of the South over the course of six hours. A total of 64 people were killed — 53 in Portland, Arkansas, and 11 in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana. Dozens of people were injured. Homes were destroyed and businesses were left in shambles.

To this day, this remains one of the most destructive such outbreaks to hit this area of the U.S. so late in the year. The tornadoes caused $630,000 in damage. That cost would be the equivalent of more than $9 million in 2021.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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