The Great Thanksgiving Blizzard of 1950

Springfield, Ohio after the snowstorm.

Exactly 67 years ago today, the Great Thanksgiving Blizzard of 1950 began. It was the biggest snowstorm for Columbus, and indeed most of Ohio, during the 40-year period of 1920-1960. That period, especially from the mid-1920s through the mid-1950s, had the lowest rates of cold and snowy winters of any comparable period. The average seasonal snowfall during that period was just 19.1″, a full 9″ below the average the 1980s-2010s have had to date. Still, the period was not without its memorable winters, including 1935-36, 1939-40 and 1947-48. None of those winters, however, had a snow event nearly as big as November 1950.

October 1950 had generally been very warm, ranking historically as the 19th warmest October in Columbus. Highs reached 65 or higher on 21 days of the month. This warmth lasted through early November, and the 80 degrees recorded on November 1st, 1950 remains tied for the warmest November temperature ever recorded. After that, the month seesawed up and down until a strong cold front and rainstorm on the 19th-20th dropped temperatures 25-30 degrees across the state, from the upper 50s-low 60s on the 20th to the low-mid 30s on the 21st. This front would be one of the catalysts for one of Ohio’s greatest winter weather events in its history.

Snow began in Columbus and other parts of Ohio on Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 23rd as a low moved through the Great Lakes and weakened. Behind that system, another cold high pressure was diving south out of Canada.

Thursday, November 23rd 1950 National Map
*Requires a DejaVu plug-in to view.

On Friday the 24th, a low formed on the stalled cold front that had moved through Ohio a few days earlier. Initially forming in southeastern North Carolina, this low would’ve normally gone out to see or moved up the East Coast as a Nor’easter. Instead, the strong, cold high pressure was moving into the Ohio Valley at the same time, and the little low exploded and as it began to move north. The strong push of cold was very evident in Ohio, as temperatures plunged from the upper-30s to upper 40s on Thanksgiving afternoon to single digits and low teens by early Friday morning.

Friday, November 24th, 1950 National Map

The low moved into southern Pennsylvania by the morning of the 25th, and then began to do something few other storms ever do- it began to retrograde toward the west and Ohio, continuing to strengthen as it went. The unusual west movement was caused by a blocking high pressure system parked over Maine.

Saturday, November 25th, 1950 National Map

Light snow that had been ongoing in Ohio on the 24th quickly intensified from east to west across the state as the low moved westward from Central Pennsylvania to Northern Ohio by the end of the day on the 25th. With it arrived winds of 40-60 miles per hour, causing blinding white-outs and drifting.
Saturday the 25th was the height of the storm as the low pressure bottomed out at 978mb, a pressure normally associated with hurricanes. This day was, coincidentally, the famed Ohio State-Michigan rivalry football game, now famously known as the “Snow Bowl” for its terrible weather conditions.

With temperatures on Saturday morning in the single digits, wind chills well below zero and with heavy snow, there was debate about cancelling the game altogether, which was the Big Ten Championship. Ironically, despite the fact that Ohio State would’ve gone on to the Rose Bowl had the game been cancelled (Michigan did not want to reschedule), it was Ohio State’s athletic director who ultimately refused to cancel the game, much to the rest of the staff’s disappointment. Perhaps after the fact, considering Ohio State lost 9-3, that decision was regretted, especially in front of the more than 50,000 die-hard fans that managed to show up for the game.


Columbus would receive 7.5″ at the airport, with eastern suburbs getting up to 10″, just on that Saturday alone.

Due to the blocking high pressure, the storm didn’t budge for days, and it continued through the 26th and 27th before slowly dying out. The last accumulating snowflakes from this system fell on the 29th, 6 days after the snow began.

Sunday, November 26th, 1950 National Map
Monday, November 27th, 1950 National Map
Tuesday, November 28th, 1950 National Map
Wednesday, November 29th, 1950 National Map

All in all, the storm was a record-breaker. Snow totals reached 10″ or more across most of the state except the far northwest and far southwest. In Central Ohio, snow had piled up between 10″-20″, with Columbus officially reporting 15.2″ for the duration of the event. This was the second-heaviest snowstorm in Columbus on record to that time, falling just shy of the 15.3″ that occurred February 17-18, 1910. Both of these storms would be surpassed by the February 14-17, 2003 snowstorm of 15.5″, which itself was surpassed by March 7-8th, 2008’s 20.5″.

Other totals in the state included up to 22″ in Cleveland, 27″ in Marietta, and reports of 44″ in Steubenville in far eastern Ohio. Totals of 25″-30″ were common throughout the eastern 1/3rd of the state. These totals are some of the highest the state has ever seen, coming close to those seen in the eastern Ohio snowstorm of April 1901.

In addition to the snow, record cold temperatures in Columbus of 5 degrees on the 25th (along with a record low maximum of 20) made this one of the greatest early winter events of all time.


Cleveland after the storm.

Historic Halloween Weather

1981-2010 Halloween Averages
High: 61
Low: 41
Mean: 51
Precipitation: 0.09″
Snowfall: 0.0″

Top 20 Warmest Halloween Highs
1. 1950: 83
2. 1974: 80
3. 1900: 79
4. 1927, 1933: 78
5. 1979, 2003: 75
6. 1882, 1901, 1982, 1999: 74
7. 1909, 1990: 73
8. 1888, 1935, 1944, 1987: 72
9. 1915, 1971: 71
10. 1919: 70
11. 1891, 1986, 2001, 2008: 69
12. 1929, 1956, 1978, 1981, 1985, 2005, 2007: 68
13. 1903, 1943, 1946, 1952, 1991, 2013: 67
14. 1902, 1916, 1953, 1965, 1984: 66
15. 1942, 1958, 1961, 1968, 1969, 2009: 65
16. 1896, 1897, 1912, 1921, 1922, 1940, 1945, 1964, 1997, 2004: 64
17. 1914, 1941, 1970, 2000, 2006: 63
18. 1886, 1924, 1934, 1959, 1977, 1983, 1998: 62
19. 1892, 1938, 1989, 1995: 61
20. 1963, 1966, 1994: 60

Top 20 Coldest Halloween Highs
1. 1906: 38
2. 1993: 39
4. 1878, 1895: 40
5. 1913, 1923, 1954: 41
6. 1885, 1917, 2012: 42
7. 1890: 43
8. 1908, 1925, 1926: 44
9. 1898, 1905: 45
10. 1930, 1976: 46
11. 1879, 1931, 2002: 47
12. 1894, 1918, 1939: 48
13. 1955, 1962, 1996, 2014: 49
14. 1880, 1972: 50
15. 1973, 2010, 2011: 52
16. 1907, 1951, 1988: 53
17. 1887, 1893, 1932, 2015: 54
18. 1883, 1928, 1949, 1975: 55
19. 1899, 1967: 56
20. 1884, 1911, 1937, 1957, 1980, 1992: 57

Top 20 Warmest Halloween Lows
1. 1919: 61
2. 1882: 60
3. 2003: 59
4. 1927, 1929: 58
5. 1900, 1956, 2013: 57
6. 1921, 1941, 1982: 56
7. 1950: 55
8. 1959, 1979: 54
9. 1971: 53
10. 1881, 1891, 1933, 1946, 1974, 1991: 52
11. 1901, 1984, 1998: 51
12. 1947: 50
13. 1961, 2001: 49
14. 1935, 1948, 1960, 1967, 1985, 1995, 1999: 48
15. 1889, 1896, 1909, 1943, 1977: 47
16. 1924, 1945, 2004, 2016: 46
17. 1899, 1911, 1916: 45
18. 1903, 1940, 2015: 44
19. 1965, 1970, 1973, 1981, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1997, 2009: 43
20. 1888, 1942, 1957, 1994, 2006: 42

Top 20 Coldest Halloween Lows
1. 1887: 20
2. 1962, 1988: 25
3. 1923: 27
4. 1908, 1925: 28
5. 1885, 1893, 1913, 1917, 1953, 1975: 29
6. 1904, 1906: 30
7. 1878, 1938, 1954, 1968: 31
8. 1928, 1934, 1949, 1958, 1964, 1976, 1980, 2000: 32
9. 1879, 1926, 1930: 33
10. 1890, 1936, 1951, 1966, 1969, 1993, 1996, 2002, 2008, 2010: 34
11. 1892, 1920: 35
12. 1894, 1895, 1932, 1955, 1978: 36
13. 1910, 1983: 37
14. 1886, 1898, 1914, 1939, 1944, 1963, 2007, 2012, 2014: 38
15. 1884, 1905, 1918, 1937, 2005, 2011: 39
16. 1880, 1883, 1907, 1952, 1972, 1986, 1987: 40
17. 1897, 1902, 1912, 1915, 1922, 1931: 41
18. 1888, 1942, 1957, 1994, 2006: 42
19. 1965, 1970, 1973, 1981, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1997, 2009: 43
20. 1903, 1940, 2015: 44

Top 20 Wettest Halloweens
1. 1932: 1.44″
2. 2009: 1.21″
3. 2013: 0.98″
4. 1941: 0.97″
5. 1919: 0.91″
6. 1942: 0.51″
7. 1960: 0.45″
8. 1905, 1973: 0.43″
9. 2006: 0.36″
10. 1989: 0.34″
11. 1976: 0.32″
12. 1993: 0.31″
13. 1972: 0.29″
14. 1994: 0.26″
15. 1895: 0.23″
16. 1959: 0.20″
17. 1948: 0.18″
18. 1889: 0.17″
19. 1921, 1951: 0.15″
20. 1963, 1967, 2012, 2014: 0.11″

Snowiest Halloweens
1. 1993: 1.0″
2. 1954: 0.2″
3. 1906, 1917, 1926, 1930, 1951, 2012: Trace

Greatest Snow Depth
1. 1954: Trace

Fall Weather Correlation to Winter Severity?

As we go into the winter season, it’s time to talk about how this one might end up. There’s a belief that fall weather is a good sign of how cold or warm winter will be. How true is that for Columbus? Also, what might any correlation mean for the winter of 2017-2018?

First, let’s just look at October temperatures.
The October normal mean temperature for Columbus is 55 degrees.

Between 1878 and 2016, there have been 47 Octobers that featured a mean temperature of 53.9 degrees or lower, what we’re considering a Cold October for the purposes of this comparison.
Of those 47 Octobers, 27 of the 47 had following winters that were colder than normal, or 57.4%, 13 had average temperature winters, or 27.7%, and the remaining 7 were warmer than normal, or 14.9%.
Interestingly, this category contains both the warmest winter on record- 1889-1890 and the coldest on record- 1976-1977- as shown by the chart below.

Next, we look at Normal Octobers, which are +/- 1 degree of the 1981-2010 Average of 55 degrees.
Between 1878 and 2016, there were 45 normal Octobers. Of those, 21 had colder than normal following winters, or 46.7%. 11 were followed by normal winters, or 24.4%, and 13 had warmer than normal winters, or 28.9%.

Finally, let’s look at warm Octobers, which are those with means of 56.1 degrees or higher. There were 46 Octobers with warmer than normal means since 1878. Of those, 18 featured following winters that were colder than normal, or 39.1%. Another 18, or 39.1%, were followed by average winters. The final 10 winters were warmer than normal. Here’s the graph.

So just based on the October mean temperature, Octobers that are colder than normal have a 47% higher chance of having a colder than normal winter than warmer than normal Octobers do. But is October a better indicator than November, a month that is closer to actual winter?

Colder than normal Novembers- 43.3 degrees or lower- included 78 Novembers since 1878. Of those, 38 or 48.7% had colder than normal winters. 21 (26.9%) had normal winters and 19 (24.4) had warmer than normal winters.

With the 38 normal Novembers, 43.4 to 45.4 degrees, there were 18 that had colder than normal winters, or 47.4%, with 11 normal winters (28.9%) and 9 warmer than normal winters (23.7%).

Finally, there were 24 warmer than normal Novembers since 1878- 45.5 degrees or higher. Only 6, or 25%, were followed by cold winters. An additional 9 (37.5%) were normal, while the last 9 (37.5%) were warmer than normal.

To reiterate, here are the ranked percentages of cold winters by the preceding October or November.
1. Cold Octobers: 57.4%
2. Cold Novembers: 48.7%
3. Normal Novembers: 47.4%
4. Normal Octobers: 46.7%
5. Warm Octobers: 39.1%
6. Warm Novembers: 25.0%

It should be no surprise that cold Octobers and Novembers have a stronger correlation to the following winters also being colder, with colder winters becoming increasingly unlikely as those months warm. Cold Octobers have a higher correlation than Cold Novembers, as well as Warm Octobers, but Normal Novembers have a slight advantage over Normal Octobers. Based on this, October actually has a stronger correlation to the following winter’s temperature mean than does November.

Going further, though, what about bi-monthly combinations?

Rank of Bi-Monthly Combinations and the percentage of colder than normal following winters, along with total years in sample:
Normal October/Normal November: 87.5% 8 Years
Cold October/Warm November: 57.1% 7 Years
Cold October/Cold November: 53.8% 26 Years
Normal October/Cold November: 48.1% 27 Years
Warm October/Cold November: 44.0% 25 Years
Cold October/Normal November: 38.5% 13 Years
Warm October/Warm November: 28.6% 7 Years
Warm October/Normal November: 26.7% 15 Years
Normal October/Warm November: 0.0% 8 Years

So a normal fall is clearly the best, but the sample size is not particularly high. Normal to Warm is unanimously warm, but again, it has a small sample size.

October 2017 has been overwhelmingly warm. While this wouldn’t normally bode well for a cold winter, each year is influenced by a multitude of factors.

1950s Ohio Severe Weather Reports Map

Interested in knowing where severe weather took place in Ohio during the 1950s? Here is a map for all the listed reports during that era. Click on the pins for more information.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1rAbADeNyKlqLT_7qvxUpURKXlHA&usp=sharing

The map incudes information for tornadoes, high wind and hail reports.

June 8, 1953 tornado damage.

Columbus Tornado History




**Originally posted 5/8/2013. Updated 6/18/2017.

Now that spring is in full swing, I thought it would be a good time to highlight Columbus’ history with tornadoes. The city has been very lucky over the years and has yet to see a truly significant event. While western and southwestern parts of the state seem to get hit nearly every year, tornadic storms have either tended to miss Columbus or weaken before reaching there.

Before 1950, good records were not kept, but I’ve found at least one example.
On May 2, 1929, a tornado hit parts of Franklinton. The strength of this tornado is unknown, but 2 men were reported killed in a Franklinton jail, pictured below.

515 Sullivant Avenue, Franklinton. May 2, 1929

 

515 Sullivant Avenue, Franklinton. May 2, 1929

 

515 Sullivant Avenue, Franklinton. May 2, 1929

Since 1950, there have been 31 tornados that touched down in the Columbus area, the majority of them small and weak.

EF0 Tornadoes Since 1950
Total: 15

Most Significant EF0 Events
Widest: 500 yards on July 28, 1961. This tornado touched down near the intersection of Scioto Darby/Alton Darby Creek Roads on the Far West Side. It travelled about 1 mile and caused less than $50,000 in damage.
Longest Track: 1.76 miles on May 11, 2008. This 20 yard wide tornado touched down near I-70 and 142 and lifted at County Highway 12, causing less than $10,000 in damage.

EF0 Tornado Count By Decade
1950s: 1 on 6/26/1954
1960s: 2 on 7/28/1961 and 9/12/1963
1970s: 0
1980s: 1 on 6/13/1981
1990s: 4 on 6/2/1991, 8/27/1992, 7/1/1993 and 7/2/1997
2000s: 3, with 2 on 8/28/2006 and 1 on 5/11/2008
2010s*: 3 on 9/22/2010, 10/26/2010, 4/20/2011 and 6/4/2016.
*Through 7/18/2017.

There have been no injuries or deaths from EF0 tornadoes in Columbus.

EF1 Tornadoes Since 1950
Total: 9

Most Significant EF1 Events
Widest: 100 yards on 4/20/2011. This tornado touched down at Township Highway 12 and travelled 2.54 miles to Richardson Road, moving west to east.
Longest Track: 15 miles on 6/10/1986. This 73 yard wide tornado travelled from just east of Rt. 38 to just west of Galloway Road moving west to east.

EF1 Tornado Count by Decade
1950s: 3 on 10/11/1954, 4/28/1958 and 7/5/1959
1960s: 0
1970s: 3 on 7/26/1973, 6/17/1975 and 9/11/1975
1980s: 2 on 8/7/1984 and 6/10/1986
1990s: 0
2000s: 0
2010s*: 1 on 4/20/2011
*2010s through 6/18/2017.

Damage from the 6/17/1975 tornado.

There have been no injuries or deaths from EF1 tornadoes in Columbus.

EF2 Tornadoes Since 1950
Total: 6

Most Significant EF2 Events
Widest: 440 yards on 4/2/1970. This tornado touched down at the southeast corner of Walnut Street and S. Otterbein Avenue and travelled about 2 miles. It caused less than $500,000 in damage.
Longest Track: 17 Miles on 5/8/1973. This 67 yard wide tornado travelled from just north of W. Bridge Street at N. Fork Indian Run to Greenbriar Road just south of Rt. 36 in Sunbury.

EF2 Tornado Count by Decade
1950s: 0
1960s: 0
1970s: 4 on 5/8/1973, 5/25/1973, 5/30/1973 and 4/3/1974
1980s: 0
1990s: 0
2000s: 1 on 10/11/2006
2010s*: 0
*2010s through 6/18/2017.

1 injury was caused by an EF2 tornado in Columbus on 5/30/1973. No deaths have been caused.

EF3 Tornadoes Since 1950
Total: 2

Most Significant EF3 Events
Widest: 300 yards on 5/10/1973. The tract length and location of this tornado are not listed.
Longest Tract: 6 miles on 2/22/1971. This 100 yard wide tornado travelled from E. Broad at Cassingham Road to the corner of Mann Road and Howard Street in Howard Estates.

EF3 Tornado Count by Decade
1950s: 0
1960s: 0
1970s: 2 on 2/22/1971 and 5/10/1973
1980s: 0
1990s: 0
2000s: 0
2010s*: 0
*2010s through 6/18/2017.

Columbus Tornado of May 10, 1973

7 injuries occurred with the 2/22/1971 tornado. No deaths have occurred from an EF3 in Columbus.

No EF4s or EF5s have occurred in or near Columbus since 1950.

Most Tornadoes in 1 Day: 2 on 8/28/2006.
Most Tornadoes in 1 Month: 4 in May, 1973.
Most Tornadoes in 1 Year: 5 in 1973.

And a related article:
http://www.thelantern.com/campus/major-tornado-in-columbus-is-inevitable-1.2256497#.UYrfpWwo7IU

And see other Ohio severe weather reports here:
1950-1959
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1rAbADeNyKlqLT_7qvxUpURKXlHA&usp=sharing
1960-1969
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ZXOBycqe49RiIESSJjAlRiJ7BgM&usp=sharing