Worst Winters of All Time?




Historically, winter in Central Ohio has been a mixed bag. Some years it seems that winter never really arrives, while others never seem to end. The 2010s have been a perfect example, with some years being some of the coldest and snowiest on record, while others were some of the warmest and least snowiest.
The last few winters haven’t been particularly harsh, but where do they rank historically? To find out, I came up with a ranking system for meteorological winter only- December 1st through February 28th. Here was the criteria:

Temperature: 1 point added for each occurrence-
– # of 32 or Below Highs
– # of 32 or Below Lows
– # of 0 or Below Highs
– # of 0 or Below Lows
And 1 point removed for each occurrence-
– # of 60 or Above Highs
– # of 50 or Above Lows

Precipitation: 1 point added for each occurrence-
– # of Days with Measurable Snowfall
– # of 1″+ Snow Days
– # of 2.5″+ Snow Days
– # of 5″+ Snow Days
– # of 10″+ Snow Days
– # of Measurable Precipitation Days overall

I then added the temperature and precipitation points together to come up with a ranking for how miserable each winter really was.

Here are the 30 worst winters of all time and their total points.

1. 1976-1977: 240
2. 1977-1978: 238
3. 1969-1970: 230
4. 2002-2003: 228
5. 1978-1979: 226
6. 1880-1881: 225
7. 1917-1918: 223
8. 1935-1936: 220
9. 2013-2014: 219
10. 1892-1893, 1962-1963: 218
11. 1909-1910: 217
12. 1995-1996, 2009-2010: 208
13. 2010-2011: 207
14. 1903-1904: 204
15. 1981-1982: 202
16. 1911-1912, 1963-1964: 197
17. 1886-1887, 1919-1920: 196
18. 1904-1905: 195
19. 1984-1985: 194
20. 1916-1917: 193
21. 1894-1895: 191
22. 1883-1884: 189
23. 2000-2001: 188
24. 1947-1948, 1961-1962: 187
25. 1993-1994: 186
26. 1884-1885, 1939-1940: 185
27. 1983-1984, 1987-1988: 183
28. 1902-1903, 2014-2015: 182
29. 1954-1955: 180
30. 1878-1879, 1882-1883, 1960-1961, 1985-1986, 2003-2004, 2008-2009: 179

Do any of these surprise you? Both 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 are in the top 30 worst, but only 2013-2014 is in the top 10. In fact, other recent winters like 2000-2001, 2002-2003, 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 are all ranked worse than that. There have been a surprising number of recent winters in the top 30, however. There have been 8 total since 2000. No other similar time frame has produced as many.

And here are the 30 best winters (if you like warm, snowless, dry winters, that is).

1. 1931-1932: 74
2. 1889-1890: 75
3. 1879-1880: 86
4. 1997-1998: 102
5. 2016-2017: 107
6. 1881-1882, 1943-1944: 111
7. 2001-2002: 112
8. 1996-1997: 115
9. 1948-1949, 1953-1954: 118
10. 1941-1942, 1982-1983: 120
11. 1918-1919: 122
12. 1936-1937: 123
13. 1932-1933, 1991-1992: 124
14. 1930-1931, 2015-2016: 125
15. 1905-1906, 1972-1973: 126
16. 1949-1950: 128
17. 1897-1898, 1986-1987: 129
18. 2011-2012: 130
19. 1938-1939: 131
20. 1937-1938: 134
21. 1908-1909, 1920-1921, 2005-2006: 135
22. 1924-1925: 137
23. 1896-1897: 138
24. 1927-1928, 1929-1930, 1940-1941, 1990-1991: 139
25. 1952-1953: 140
26. 1921-1922, 1945-1946, 1998-1999: 141
27. 1988-1989: 143
28. 1891-1892: 144
29. 1946-1947, 1971-1972: 145
30. 1912-1913, 1934-1935: 147

Look how many of the warmest/least snowy occurred between 1920 and 1945. Historically, this period had the fewest number of cold and/or snowy winters on record of any such 25-year period.

And what about winter 2018-2019? Well, that remains to be seen. However, the developing weak El Nino, combined with other Pacific and global indices suggests that it will be both cold and snowy. It’s already getting off to an early start with November 2018 potentially ending up as a top 10 or 15 coldest on record. We’ll have to see if this continues into December and beyond, but such early cold is often associated with harsher winters, though there are certainly exceptions to that.

To see lots of other winter statistics, check out the All-Time Weather page.