November 26-27, 1983 | Omaha Thanksgiving weekend snowstorm

November 26-27, 1983 |  Omaha Thanksgiving weekend snowstorm

Thanksgiving week is known as the busiest travel week of the year, beating Christmas and all other holidays. On average, nearly 50 million Americans drive or fly each year around Thanksgiving. In 2023, early estimates predict that more than 55 million Americans will venture out of the country. Sometimes, Mother Nature cooperates and gives us a quiet week, but other years, the worst Mother Nature has to offer is thrown our way during the week.

Mother Nature tested the limits of travel during Thanksgiving 1983, when two consecutive major snowstorms hit the United States, bringing with them loads of snow, icy roads, breathtaking winds, and bitter cold while Americans were stuck in airports or hotel rooms. These storm systems did not spare Nebraska or Iowa, as both states felt the brunt of these powerful systems. In this batch of This week in weather historywe look back to the nightmarish week of Thanksgiving 1983 to look at the two storm systems that brought the country to a near standstill.

Winter 1982-1983 and 1983-1984

For any winter lover in Omaha, 1982-84 was a dream. From October 1982 to May 1984, 106.8″ It snows in Omaha during two winters. In 1983 alone, 74.2″ It fell during the year. This makes 1983 the snowiest year in Omaha’s history, and second place isn’t even close 64.5″ In 1948. He witnessed the winter of 1982-1983 51″ of snow, while the winter of 1983-1984 was witnessed 55.8″ Of snow. The winter of 1983 was average as well 31″ (In 2023, the number drops to 27 inches.) So both seasons saw well above average snowfall.

November 1983: Weather settings

The weather pattern for November was very active, with several large storm systems sweeping across the country. Each one is stronger than the last, heading into Thanksgiving weekend, November 26-27. The week of Thanksgiving, three storm systems crossed the country.

The first storm brought scattered showers to Omaha on November 19, and they quickly moved away. However, this first cold front brought some cold air from Canada, which a second storm system will benefit from by November 21.


A look at a weather map from November 19, 1983. System No. 1 was a cold front that brought scattered showers to the Midwest but would be a catalyst for cold air to move into the central United States. In the west, Storm System No. 2 was forming off the U.S. coast, and this will impact Nebraska and Iowa on November 21-23.

From November 21 to 23, a second storm system moved across Nebraska and Iowa delivering light to moderate amounts of snow. It kept the cold air at bay just in time for System 3, a Thanksgiving weekend snowstorm, to begin its cross-country journey.

November 22.png


Weather map from November 22 showing System 2 in Kansas. The area shaded white is the general area of ​​snowfall over the Midwest. The first band of snow moved from Wyoming to Minnesota, while the second band developed from Kansas to Wisconsin. Omaha entered what is known as a “dry slot,” a band of dry air that wraps behind a storm system, reducing overall snowfall.
November 24.png


General weather map as of November 24 as System 2 begins to move away. Meanwhile, System No. 3 was coming ashore on the West Coast. This will be the storm system that will produce a snowstorm on Thanksgiving weekend.

System 3 crossed the Rocky Mountains on November 25 and exited into the Great Plains on November 26. This low pressure system was the strongest on record and caused the most widespread impacts over the region.

November 26.png


Weather map from November 26 shows System 3 moving through Oklahoma and Kansas. Historically, storm systems following this path have brought the heaviest snow to Nebraska and Iowa. The October 1997 storm followed this similar path.
Weather map November 27.PNG

NOAA Central Library

Actual weather map from November 27, 1983. Shaded areas are where rain is falling.

Introduction: November 21-23

System 2 bringing snow and ice to Nebraska and Iowa is causing headaches in and around Omaha. Officially, Omaha picked up 1.4 inches of snow, which is not impressive for major snow events. It was the sleet and ice that caused problems, and several accidents were reported throughout the metro. The most important of these was a 19-car collision near 90th and Fort Streets. No one was killed in this accident, although a few were injured, and other minor accidents occurred across the metro.

November 13-21 Snowfall.png


Total snowfall from the early Thanksgiving week snow event across Nebraska and Iowa. The largest amounts of snow were over northwest Nebraska, but another band of moderate snow split Iowa in two.

In the rest of Nebraska, up to 14 inches of snow covered parts of Panhandle, halting traffic for several days in the area. I-80 from Ogallala to the Wyoming border was closed for a time, once again leaving many motorists stranded.

Snowfall map for November 23-24

Storm data published, November 1983

Snowfall amounts as shown in the Storm Data Publication with each line representing 2″. Heaviest snowfall in Minnesota and Wisconsin, with nearly 2″ of snow falling in places like Duluth MN and Superior WI.

In Iowa, a woman was killed on I-35 when her car slid off the road. In Greene County, east of Carroll, two more people died when icy roads led to a head-on collision. A secondary band of snow of 3-6 inches fell from Clarinda to Mason City, covering the ice and causing more accidents. Hundreds of travelers were stranded for several hours in Iowa as snow and ice fell.

Main Event: November 26-27

Starting in the wake of the previous snowstorm, forecasters were looking forward to the next storm coming off the West Coast of the United States. “It looks like it’s going to be the same type (referring to the previous blizzard), another major winter storm,” Bill Hurt said Omaha World-Herald On November 24th. Snow warnings were posted across Nebraska, and Omaha was expected to receive only 1-3 inches of snow with a glaze of ice ahead of it. No one expected what was about to happen.

Weather map November 28.PNG

NOAA Central Library

A weather map released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on November 28 shows the large storm system over the Midwest. Shaded areas represent areas of precipitation.

Saturday afternoon began with freezing rain in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, and a layer of ice quickly caused travel headaches as dozens of cars slid into ditches. Fortunately, no major incidents occurred during the freezing rain portion of the storm.

November 27 Satellite.PNG

Storm data published, November 1983

A satellite image taken on November 27, 1983 shows how massive the storm system is. The low pressure area was located in Texas, but the clouds extended as far as Ohio.

Then it snowed, and after the snow quickly surpassed the 3-inch mark in Omaha, many knew it was about to be a big storm. When it was all over, 10 inches of snow had fallen in Omaha, with higher totals to the north and west. From David City to Norfolk, snowfall totals of 18 inches were common, making this the region’s largest snowstorm in November. A wide swath of 1 to 2 inches of snow fell from Denver to Duluth, leaving thousands of travelers stranded at airports and highways, some seeking shelter in nearby hotels.

DMA historical snowfall maps.png


Snowfall map of eastern northeastern and western IA during a 1983 Thanksgiving weekend blizzard.

Schools and businesses were closed Monday and Tuesday, extending several Thanksgiving weekends. The kids built snowmen and went sledding, and one popular spot was a huge snow hill near 50th and Center. Emergency teams worked day and night to remove snow. Fortunately, the winds were relatively calm in Omaha, meaning power outages remained minimal. By midweek, Omaha was back to normal as the snow began to melt.

Snowfall map NCDC.PNG

Storm data published, November 1983

Snowfall map from the blizzard that struck the Midwest on Thanksgiving weekend in 1983. 1-2 inches of snow fell from eastern Colorado to Wisconsin. Lines 2 represent “snowfall increments starting at 6”.

In western Nebraska, the National Guard had to be called in to rescue motorists along I-80 who were stuck in more than 20 inches of falling snow. A family near Valentine slid off the road and had to spend the night inside their car before being rescued. This came the next morning. Others took refuge in hotels, businesses and homes. Unfortunately, some motorists have died from exposure to carbon monoxide when snow clogs car exhaust pipes. Two people also died near Ainsworth from carbon monoxide poisoning when ice blocked their furnace. Outside Oshkosh in Panhandle, a man was rounding up his livestock when he fell from his tractor, was unable to get up, and died from exposure. Overall, at least five deaths are directly attributable to the blizzard, not counting deaths resulting from heart attacks from shoveling snow.

November 28 Satellite.PNG

Storm data published, November 1983

Satellite image dated November 28, 1983. Low pressure was over Illinois at the time, but it continued to snow in Omaha.

Iowa was hit hard in the northwest corner, with more than 12 inches of snow falling. In Sioux City, a foot of snow accompanied by 50 mph winds brought the city to a standstill for several hours. I-29 was closed for a time in Iowa. Snow totals were down in the South and East, with almost no snow falling in southeastern Iowa.

Overall, the Thanksgiving weekend blizzard of 1983 remains one of the largest snowstorms of the holiday. The effects were felt from California to Maine, with the worst-hit states being Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Denver blizzard stopped the city in its tracks for days, and at one point, Denver’s airport was completely shut down. During the entire Thanksgiving week of 1983, more than 60 people were killed by the blizzard over the weekend and the blizzard that occurred earlier in the week.

I-70 Blizzard.PNG

Denver Post

This photo was taken from I-70 in eastern Colorado, but is a good representation of what I-80 or I-29 looked like during a blizzard on Thanksgiving weekend in 1983.

Coda: December 1983

If anyone was already tired of winter after Thanksgiving week, it was about to get much worse as December 1983 turned bitterly cold across the country. The week leading up to Christmas was brutal, with Omaha not seeing any temperatures above zero between the morning of December 18 and Christmas morning. The highest temperature of the entire month was 33 degrees, meaning there was only one day above freezing in Omaha. The average temperature for December 1983 was 7.8 degrees Celsius, the coldest December ever in Omaha’s history, and it’s not even close. Because temperatures never rose above freezing, the snow that fell on Thanksgiving did not completely melt, with a snow depth of 5 inches recorded on December 1. After some other snow events, there was 13 inches of snow on the ground by Christmas.

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Temperatures in Omaha during December 1983. There was an entire week in which temperatures did not rise above zero.

Things were no better across the country, and December 1983 was very cold in most parts of the country. On December 15, cities like Dallas woke up to nearly 6 inches of snow on the ground due to a winter storm.

Temperatures for December 1983.png

NWS Norman OK

A look across the country at below-average temperatures during the month. In Nebraska, temperatures were 18-20 degrees below the December average.

Tragically, the cold snap of December 1983 led to many deaths across the country, most of them in southern states where they were not accustomed to the cold.

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NWS Norman OK

Number of deaths resulting from the December 1983 cold wave that struck the United States.

After some things melted in January, snow continued to fall in Omaha, and the winter of 1983-1984 became one of the snowiest in Omaha’s history. Much of this snow came during a blizzard on Thanksgiving weekend in 1983.

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