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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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