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Local Weather History: The Top 10 Biggest December Snowstorms On Record Since 1879

The top big snowstorms for December, in 139 years of record keeping are below.

Posted: Dec 12, 2018 3:54 PM
Updated: Dec 14, 2018 9:55 PM

In looking at the snow records for West Lafayette since 1879, snow of less than 6" in one storm were fairly plentiful, but totals of more than 6" in one storm become uncommon & totals exceeding 8" are actually rare.  We have only had 6 storms that have brought 8 or more inches of snow since 1879, according to official U.S. Weather Bureau/NOAA records from Purdue 1879-1953 & the Ag Farm 1954-present.

West Lafayette Snowfall Totals

1.  20.5" 

December 18-19, 1929

This was the big one for Greater Lafayette!  This was one of the the most paralyzing snowstorms until the blizzards of 1973, then 1977 & 1978.

Blizzard conditions occurred with drifts reportedly up to 5' deep in open, rural areas.

 Interestingly, 1.77" of rainfall & 40s occurred the day before, then snow amount to 1.52" of liquid.  So, when melting, it would be like releasing 3.29" of rainfall with this moisture-rich storm system.  However, the melting was pretty slow.  We still had 12" of snow on the ground on December 26 after a peak depth of 22" on December 23 after an additional 3" of storm from a storm system.  This lessened the risk of river flooding for the short term at that time.

There was still 5" on the ground on December 31, but sudden warming with 56 on January 1 & 2 & 1.29" of rainfall melted it all.

Although the big +20" depth did not melt suddenly, the 5" depth over a frozen ground at the end of the month combined with +1" of rainfall to eventually cause river flooding.  A significant ice storm struck just a week later.  All of these led to significant river flooding by mid-January 1930.

This snowstorm paralyzed much of the viewing area & was massive with crippling heavy snow & ice from Illinois, Indiana & Ohio to New York & Pennsylvania.

The parent low pressure with this system came from the Rockies, but it re-developed into an Inside Runner type storm over Texas, Arkansas & Louisiana.

Snowfall Totals:

24.0" Veedersburg

20.5" West Lafayette

18.0" Fowler

13.0" Rensselaer

12.8" Thayer (Newton County)

12.0" Monticello

12.0" Delphi

11.0" Logansport

8.2" Crawfordsville

7.5" Frankfort

7.0" Kokomo

Just as our big storm left & the Arctic air spilled in, an epic storm developed on the tail end of the front with state-record snowfall accumulation for Texas with up to 26".  Storm, loaded with moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, formed on the edge of the Arctic airmass & spread snowfall eastward.  Even Baton Rouge, Louisiana received 6", but it was epic in Texas with more than two feet in places.

Wow, if this storm could have become an Inside Runner storm for our area (as many times these Texas/Gulf storms do & bring some of our heaviest snows) & dumped +12", the accumulations between the two storms of more than three feet in our area would have been incredible.


2.  17.0"

December 19-20, 1973

This significant storm produced blizzard conditions over the viewing area with much of the area shut down for days.  It was the worst storm since the early 1960s for Greater Lafayette & since 1967 in our northwestern counties.  It would not be until 1977 that conditions were this bad.

The storm came out of Texas as an Inside Runner track, which normally bring us our biggest snows.

Snowfall Totals:

19" Kokomo

18" Frankfort

18" Crawfordsville

17.5" Delphi

17.4" Purdue Airport

17.0" Covington

17.0" Purdue Ag Farm (Official Total)

16.5" Romney (Throckmorton Purdue Ag Site)

16.0" Logansport

10.7" Winamac

3.  12.8"

December 25-26, 1909

This storm was not your typical Inside Runner system, but tracked from the Colorado & Texas Panhandle to just southeast of our area.  I thought, with such high totals, the storm would track & bit more south & east & put us in the typical sweet spot for snow, but this one did not.

The heavy band must have occurred just northwest of the surface low.  Normally it is more like 100 miles to the northwest.

This storm redeveloped into an intense Nor'Easter with blizzard conditions in the Mid-Atlantic to Northeast.

The photo below is an image from Delaware after the storm.

Snowfall Totals:

15.9" Rochester

12.8" West Lafayette

11.0" Logansport

10.5" Rensselaer

10.0" Delphi

8.0" Kokomo

7.0" Crawfordsville

7.0" Veedersburg


4.  10.0"

December 24-25, 1934

Like 1909, this storm track just barely southeast of the area.  The highest totals were found just barely northwest of the center with up to 10" in a band from West Lafayette to Delphi.

Arctic air followed this storm, as you can see it gathering to our northwest in the second surface map.

Snowfall totals:

10.0" West Lafayette

10.0" Delphi

7.0" Logansport

6.0" Kokomo

4.5" Frankfort

4.5" Winamac

4.0" Fowler

4.0" Veedersburg

4.0" Wheatfield

2.0" Crawfordsville

2.0" Thayer (Newton County)

1.1" Rensselaer

0.4" Rochester


5.  8.0"

December 16, 1883; December 25, 1915

The December 1883 was caused by a Alberta Clipper, but we were right in the perfect, sweet spot where the greatest frontagenetical forcing in the SGZ (Snow Growth Zone) occurs.  We were well north of a warm front in the snow, then caught the deformation zone snow from the surface low.  This led to totals of up to 8".

Although clipper usually lack moisture, they can be extremely efficient snow producers with a very sharp temperature gradient with them & the ability to focus the moisture & forcing into where the snow crystals develop in the troposphere.

Given the clipper's strength, considerable wind occurred with the storm & given temperatures only in the teens to around 20, it was dry & powderly, resulting in much blowing & drifting snow.

December 1883 was a very snowy month in the area.  Monthly snowfall totals included:

23.0" Rensselaer

18.0" West Lafayette

17.8" Logansport

13.0" Crawfordsville

Indianapolis recorded 24" for the month.

December 16-17, 1883

Snowfall totals December 16-17, 1883:

10.0" Rensselaer

8.0"  West Lafayette

8.0"  Logansport


December 25, 1915

The 1915 storm was not an Inside Runner, but pretty classic Colorado low/Texas Panhandle system that often bring us winter storms. Snowfall of 6-9" was measured from official U.S. Weather Bureau COOP stations with considerable wind causing drifts of up to 3' in rural areas.

Snowfall totals:

9.0" Delphi

8.5" Logansport

8.0" West Lafayette

6.0" Monticello

Christmas 1915 at Indianapolis:

(Indianapolis News)


6.  7.8"

December 2-3, 1893

A Colorado/Texas Panhandle low, this storm struck early in the season with unusually cold, Arctic air behind it.  The morning low on December 4 dropped to -11, making it still the coldest December 4 on record.  The second coldest December 4 was set in 1991 with 1.  This beat the modern-day record by 15 degrees!  However it was 43 by the 8th and 59 with a daily rainfall total of 1.59" on the 15th at Purdue. 

The U.S. Bureau at the time called the storm "very severe" over Illinois & Indiana.  The 8" of snow at Chicago damaged buildings at the Columbian Exposition grounds. 

Snowfall totals:

10.2" Logansport

9.5" Delphi

7.8" West Lafayette


7.  7.4"

December 18-19, 1945

This was a good set-up for significant snow from a traditional Colorado/Texas Panhandle low.  Up to 8" was reported.  It is likely that the other storm system along the Gulf Coast took some of the moisture from this system.  The snowfall totals may have been perhaps 2-3" more (& the significant snowfall totals more widespread) if not so much heavy rainfall had occurred in the Deep South.

Snowfall Totals:

8.0" Veedersburg

7.5" Crawfordsville

7.4"  West Lafayette

6.0" Kokomo

5.6" Peru

5.4" Delphi

5.2" Frankfort

4.7" Rensselaer

4.0" Kentland

3.6" Logansport

3.1" Fowler

3.0" Rochester

2.0" Wheatfield


8.  7.1"

December 9, 2005

An Inside Runner storm, this brought early season Arctic air with it & a howling winds at the end of & behind the event.  This resulted in lots of blowing & drifting snow & hazardous road conditions.

What cut totals a bit here was the fast movement of the storm.  It race to the northeast & was in & out pretty quickly.

I remember this one well.  I covered it doing live shots during 5 & 6 p.m. newscasts in Evansville & we had freezing rain, sleet & snow with temperatures near 31, then a flash freeze.  All of the water, ice & slush on roadways became a solid block of ice.  Travel was near impossible & the winds were brutal from the northwest as temperatures plunged.  The wintry precipitation was confined to only afternoon-evening, literally like 5 hours, with the storm's rapid movement.

Snowfall totals:

8.1" Francesville

7.4" Crawfordsville

7.1" West Lafayette

7.1" Kokomo

7.0" Chalmers

7.0" Delphi

7.0" Romney

6.8"  Fair Oaks

6.5" Remington

6.5" Young America (Cass County)

6.0" Rensselaer

6.0" Flora

6.0" Winamac

5.5" Morocco

5.0" Frankfort

5.0" Boswell

4.7" Attica

4.5" Logansport

3.0" Pence

2.5" Kentland


9.  7.0"

December 25-26, 1926; December 21-22, 1983

December 25-26, 1926

This storm had an Inside Runner track, but it appears that Arctic high over the area shunted storm a bit to the southeast & dried up the back edge of the snow.  Little/no snow fell in the far northwester part of the area & totals dropped substantially with northwestward extent.

Snowfall totals:

8.2"  Logansport

7.0"  West Lafayette

6.5"  Delphi

6.2" Frankfort

6.0" Veedersburg

5.0" Monticello

2.5" Rensselaer

2.0" Winamac

Trace Thayer (Newton County)

0  Wheatfield


December 21-22, 1983

Part of the historic snow & cold for Christmas 1983, a year earlier it was the warmest such period on record since the 1875-76 winter for the area.

Up to 9.5" was measured from this rather unconventional snow system with surface low & cold front tracking right over the area.  Brutally cold air & wind chills to -45 occurred around Christmas, making it the coldest one on record for the area.

Snowfall totals:

9.5" Purdue Airport

9.2" Kentland

8.0" Wheatfield

7.5" Winamac

7.0" West Lafayette (Purdue Ag Farm)

7.0" Delphi

5.8" Logansport

5.3" Covington

5.1" Romney (Purdue Throckmorton Ag Farm)

5.0" Frankfort

3.5" Kokomo

2.8" Crawfordsville


10.  6.5"

December 16, 2007

This was a pretty standard Inside Runner storm.  Up to 10.5" of snow was measured in the viewing area with gusty, strong winds on the back side of the storm causing widespread blowing & drifting snow.

Snowfall totals:

10.5" Buck Creek

10.0" Winamac

9.5" Star City (Pulaski County)

9.3" West Lafayette Sewage Plant

9.1" Kokomo

9.0" Covington

8.8" Monticello

8.4" Francesville

7.9" Wheatfield

7.5" Remington

7.5" Rensselaer

7.5" Galveston

7.5" Crawfordsville

7.0" Attica

7.0" Veedersburg

7.0" Otterbein

7.0" Romney (Throckmorton Purdue Farm)

6.9" Logansport

6.8" Delphi

6.5" West Lafayette (Purdue Ag Farm)

6.5" Morocco

6.5" Chalmers

6.5" Peru

6.1" Kentland

6.0" Flora

6.0" Boswell

6.0" Camden

5.9" Young America (Cass County)

5.7" Fair Oaks

4.8" Rochester

4.5" Frankfort

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