The United States has seen a wide range of winters over the past century—everything from warm, mild years where folks could stroll leisurely through parks in February, to turbulent, frigid seasons where people had to hunker down inside. There were years where blizzards swept in unannounced, covering huge swaths of the country in blankets of snow, while other years brought hurricane-force winds to cities and towns across the nation.
The Midwest region is particularly susceptible to cold winters, especially in states like Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Michigan. In these places, residents lie in the path of both the low-pressure systems that originate in Alberta and travel southward (sometimes called “Canadian clippers”) and the shortwave low-pressure systems that come from the southwest, traveling northeast toward the Great Lakes region (also called “Panhandle hooks”). Additionally, some winters, particularly in recent years, see the polar vortex in the north sending giant masses of freezing Arctic air southward. These often settle over the Midwest, causing jarring and dangerous drops in temperature.
The Midwest isn’t the only place in America that’s vulnerable to blustery, bitter-cold winters. New England experiences a large number of hurricane-level storms and cyclones, mainly from nor’easters that form in Canada and travel south. The Rocky Mountains are prone to extreme temperature lows as well as heavy blizzards, especially in states like Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana (the latter of which can reach temperatures of 50 degrees below zero in the thick of winter). Alaska sees freezing, storm-filled winters that often break records for lowest temperatures and heaviest snowfalls. And the western states often get hit with torrential rainstorms that cause widespread flooding and damage. In contrast, Hawaii, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas enjoy some of the mildest winters in the U.S.
To give you an idea of how these winters have played out over time, Stacker put together a slideshow featuring information and statistics for each year of the past century, beginning in 1921 right up through 2020. In addition to average highs and lows, we’ve included major weather events like storms, blizzards, or other occurrences that captured headlines those years. Much of the data was compiled from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information (NOAA) in January 2021. The average, maximum, and minimum temperatures and average precipitation data for each year were gathered from the Climate at a Glance: National Time Series. This data describes winters (designated by NOAA as December of the preceding year through February of the current year) in the contiguous U.S. The record one-day snowfall data were gathered from the NOAA's Snowfall Extremes.
Take a look at the slides to see what winter was like the year you were born.
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