Thanksgiving's Seven Most Memorable Storms

Thanksgiving weather history, lake-effect snowstorm
A lake-effect snowstorm hit the snow-belt regions on Thanksgiving in 2005, (Image credit:

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While much of the United States will be calm for Thanksgiving Day, there are some trouble spots, including rain in California and lake-effect snow downwind of the Great Lakes. Mother Nature was not so kind for some Thanksgiving holidays in our country's history.

Below is a list of a few of the nation's most memorable Thanksgiving weather events in chronologic order:

1. The Snow Bowl

Two days after Thanksgiving on Nov. 25, 1950, the Ohio State Buckeyes hosted the Michigan Wolverines in Columbus, Ohio, for a collegiate football game that would go down in history.

Now referred to by some as the "Blizzard Bowl," the game is famous for its blizzardlike conditions, as temperatures dropped 10 degrees during the game, accompanied by blowing snow and wind.

During the game, the air temperature was between 10 F and 16 F with a wind chill between -8 F and -1 F. During the middle of the game, the visibility was down to one quarter of a mile and sustained winds rose to 22 mph.

Michigan was victorious without ever even earning a first down. Both teams punted more than 20 times with the entirety of the game's points coming from blocked kicks. The final score of the game was 9-3.

2. Hurricane Iwa

While hurricanes in the Hawaiian Islands are somewhat rare, the Hawaiian Island of Kauai was slammed by Hurricane Iwa just two days before Thanksgiving on Nov. 23, 1982. This hurricane was the first direct hit on the island since 1959.

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As the storm made landfall, sustained winds were 86 mph with wind gusts up to 105 mph. The peak storm surge, between 6 and 8 feet, crashed on the southern shores of Kauai and caused major damage, later costing the island more than $150 million.

Another $50 million was shelled out after the storm for damages on the island of Oahu. Despite the hefty costs for damages, there were no deaths on land.

3. San Joaquin Valley Dust Storm

Just one day after Thanksgiving in 1991, a blinding dust storm swept through California's main highway, the Interstate 5, in San Joaquin Valley area. As one of the main travel days around the holiday, this dust storm proved to be catastrophic as it caused a 100-vehicle chain accident on the freeway. More than 15 people lost their lives and more than 130 were injured as a result of the massive pileup.

This traffic camera from the California Department of Transportation is along a portion of California's Interstate 5 that was closed as a result of the dust storm in 1991. (Image credit: CDOT.)

According to The Los Angeles Times, the California Highway Patrol ended up closing a 150-mile stretch of the roadway due to the storm. The portions of the closed highway included the high traffic areas near Bakersfield to Los Banos.

4. 1992 Tornado Outbreak

The weekend before Thanksgiving, a three-day severe weather outbreak unleashed tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds across 13 states.

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Spanning from Nov. 21 through Nov. 23, 1992, more than 90 tornadoes spun through states from southeastern Texas to the central portion of the Atlantic Seaboard. Mississippi was hit the hardest during this outbreak, as 21 counties were declared disaster areas after the storms rolled through.

When the outbreak ended, more than 640 people had been injured and more than 25 people lost their lives. This outbreak set the record for the number of tornadoes in the month of November.

5. The Sleet Bowl

While this Nov. 25, 1993 Thanksgiving Day game went down in the history books for Leon Lett's fumble that cost the Dallas Cowboys the victory against the Miami Dolphins, the game also came with some unexpected weather, making it the first time ever that winter precipitation was recorded on Thanksgiving in Dallas.

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A local cold front with strong winds and black and blue skies, also called a Blue Norther, brought cold temperatures and sleet to the Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas, on game day.

Sleet covered the field that day making it hard for players to keep their balance during the game, resulting in a low-scoring game and the blunder that gave the Dolphins a win.

6. Winds in Western Washington

Two days after the 1998 Thanksgiving holiday, dozens of flights were canceled out of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after portions of the building lost power due to high winds. Sustained winds of 50 mph swept through much of the western Washington area, downing trees and power lines on the way.

This traffic camera photo shows the Hood Canal Bridge. (Image credit: The Washington State Department of Transportation.)

Wind gusts up to 76 mph were recorded in Bellingham, one of the state's largest cities. After the wind subsided more than 250,000 homes and businesses were without power, including all of the 26,000 customers on Whidbey Island, one of the nine islands in Island County, Wash.

Additionally, the state's floating bridge, the Hood Canal Bridge, that connects two of Washington's peninsulas was closed for hours, hindering travel for many headed home.

7. Major Lake-Effect Snowstorm

After a cold front swung across the snow-belt regions on Thanksgiving morning in 2005, winds shifted and ignited lake-effect snow as the bands headed southwestward.

Snow fell all night accompanied by gusty winds 30 mph or more, dumping more than 20 inches of snow in areas off lakes Erie and Ontario. The towns of Ellicottville, N.Y., and West Leyden, Ill., were slammed with 24 inches of snow.

After the storm swung northward, downstate New York was blanketed with 7 inches of snow in the Buffalo metro area.

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