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Courtroom Climate: Top weather events to hit the Rochester area

Kevin Williams

In last month’s column we identified the top 10 most extraordinary weather events to strike the United States in the 20th century, as reported from a reader poll conducted for “Weatherwise” magazine

Here is my list for the top 10 severe/unusual weather events to strike the Rochester area since 1900:

10. The Aug. 7, 1979, seiche. The Swiss word for a sudden change in lake level, the seiche was caused by a tornado crossing over Lake Ontario near Toronto that resulted in a large scale “sloshing” of lake water. This produced a dramatic and rapid lowering and then rising of the lake level in Rochester, resulting in capsized boats, damage along the shore from Irondequoit to Pultneyville, and the frightening of many lakeshore residents.

9. A tornado in Hilton on July 25, 2009. This was the first tornado in Monroe County since 1981. Damage was very localized and there were no injuries.

8. The back-to-back blizzards of March 4 and March 6, 1999. Total snowfall for the two storms was 40 inches, the most ever in a three-day span. Gov. George Pataki declared a State of Emergency.

7. The “storm of the century” of March 13-14, 1993. The massive storm produced two feet of snow, 40 mile per hour winds and lightning in Rochester. Nationally, every eastern airport was forced to close at some point during the storm, which also produced severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, in addition to record heavy snows from Maine to northern Florida.

6. The “dust bowl/all-time heat” of the 1930s. Though the dust that plagued the heartland farmer was not a factor in Rochester, the decade remains the hottest in local history, including the all-time highest temperature ever recorded.

5. The April 3-4, 2003 ice storm. Though not as severe as the storm of approximately 12 years prior, never has so much ice accreted in Rochester so late in the season, with ice thicknesses of an inch resulting in widespread tree losses and power outages.

4. The Blizzard of 1966 (Jan. 29 to Feb. 2). This five-day storm produced 32 inches of snow in Rochester, the area’s third largest single storm accumulation. The town of Oswego observed 102 inches of snow from the storm and the lake effect that followed.

3. The Labor Day Derechio of 1998. A derechio is a long-lived line of particularly severe thunderstorms. Severe destruction was observed in the Rochester area, particularly in the canal towns late Sunday evening and early Monday morning of Sept. 6 and 7. The peak gust at the Rochester airport was 89 miles per hour, an all-time record.

2. The Leap Day storm of 1984. This five-day storm delivered 33 inches of snow to Rochester, the second highest on record. The storm was especially memorable because many city private snowplow contractors failed to appear during and after the storm.

1. The ice storm of 1991. No other weather event in modern times generated more destruction and misery in the Rochester area than the ice storm that struck on March 3 and 4. There were 17 consecutive hours of freezing rain that resulted in an ice accretion of 1.5 inches. More than 300 thousand utility customers were left without power, some for more than two weeks. Dollar damages approached 400 million making it the costliest natural disaster in state history at that time.

What events would compose your top 10 list?

Kevin Williams is president of weather-track.com and director of meteorology for News 10NBC.


  1. Superb synopsis!

    As I read this summary of spectacular natural events, [which Mother Nature has always produced & always will, for that’s her JOB], I am brought to thought: during and after each of these “normal” extreme events, why wasn’t manmade Global Warming blamed as an explanation???

    Simple: the very notion ITSELF is man-made, by the political-media machine of faux science.

    The delusion that man controls the weather, let alone the CLIMATE, wasn’t popular then; no different than a tattoo or a piercing is popular among youth today.

    We knew Who was in control.

    Thank you, Kevin, for always bringing REAL science to our table.

  2. I remember the ice storm of ’03! I was 9, almost 10 (my birthday is in the summer). My family went without power in our home for almost a week, the longest I can remember being without electricity. I was very scared of storms for at least a few years after that, because I was afraid we were going to lose power again.

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