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Whose snowstorms are bigger, Canada or U.S.?

Chris Scott
Chief Meteorologist

Saturday, February 6, 2016, 4:50 PM - A lot of Canadians got riled up over a tweet I sent after the record-setting blizzard in the U.S.

It was late on a Saturday night, but I did carefully select Toronto, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Montreal as never experiencing a storm like the one that hit the New York-Washington,D.C., corridor. 

Sure, these cities have seen some big winter storms – but in terms of the amount of snow from one storm, I thought I was on pretty solid ground.

Well, after a couple dozen replies I realized I had hit a very sensitive nerve. We love our snowstorms and don’t tell us they’re not the biggest!

I started to wonder if I’d missed something. I thought I had a good memory of the approximate record snowfall for these cities, and I knew that meteorologically it’s extremely difficult to top the snowfall amounts from a slow-moving nor’easter. But some of the Prairie blizzard pictures made me dig deeper.

So we had our stat guru, meteorologist Michael Carter run the numbers. He found the biggest multi-day snowfall totals for these cities:

  • Toronto (YYZ): 45.5 cm, Feb. 24-25, 1965 
  • Edmonton (YEG): 40.6 cm, April 6-7, 1991
  • Winnipeg (YWG): 48 cm, April 4-7, 1997
  • Ottawa (YOW): 48.5 cm, Jan. 30-31, 1966
  • Montreal (YUL): 58.9 cm, Dec. 26-28, 1969

The January 2016 northeast U.S. blizzard topped all of these amounts. Here are some of the official totals:

  • New York: 68-77 cm
  • Baltimore-Washington Airport: 74 cm
  • Newark: 71 cm
  • Allentown: 81 cm

Unofficial totals approaching 100 cm were reported northwest of Washington, D.C., in parts of Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.

So it seems pretty clear cut that the U.S. wins this round and my tweet was accurate in the context of snowfall amount from one storm. But that’s not exactly a fair fight. Nor’easters are the cream of the crop when it comes to snowfall and we have our own cities that get hit by these storms. When it comes to snow, Atlantic Canada is the champion.  

Haligonians have White Juan in February 2004 as their claim to fame with close to 100 cm of snow. We’ve had our share of monster snowfalls close to one metre in Newfoundland as well. But if any U.S. city wants to take us on, let them try to take down Moncton:

Moncton (YQM) 155.9cm – January 31-February 2, 1992.

In all of this ice crystal posturing, we have to remember that snowfall measurement is anything but exact. And even when the measurement method is sound, the variability in snowfall based on location and drifting can be huge. 

This is likely why Winnipeg’s infamous Blizzard of March 1966 doesn’t show up as the city’s number one. While the airport reported 35.6 cm, much more snow accumulated in neighbourhoods and city streets where cars were partially buried.

And the snow storm considered to be Toronto’s biggest doesn’t show up as number one either. 

The snow storm of December 1944 dumped approximately 57 cm of snow on Toronto over 2 days. Only about 30 cm was reported at Pearson airport. 

Image: City of Toronto Archives

But many Canadians wouldn’t believe that Victoria, B.C.’s biggest snowstorm easily surpasses any that have occurred from Calgary to Montreal. Over three days in late December 1996, over 100 cm fell in Victoria

Don’t worry, Canada. While the U.S. may get some huge snowfalls, our cities get them more frequently and often have stronger winds, worse visibility and much colder temperatures. And even our mildest winter city, Victoria, has been clubbed with more snow than most U.S. cities have ever seen. 

We still rule winter.

WATCH: Canada's Top 5 Snowiest Springs:

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