Interesting Facts

The worst blizzard in recorded history: the 1972 Iran blizzard

The deadliest snowstorm ever recorded occurred in Iran in 1972. It lasted for a week, burying areas in 26 feet of snow and killing over 4,000 people, including the entire populations of three villages.

There are several ways to determine the worst blizzard in recorded history. Property damage and infrastructure repair cost money, but what stands out to me is loss of life and human and animal suffering.

Given that, the 1972 Iran Blizzard has to be at the top of the list.

We don’t normally think of Iran as a place where blizzards occur. Sure, they have mountains that get a lot of snow, but not everywhere else!

In reality, much of Iran has a semi-arid climate with high mountains and valleys that can experience all four seasons.

However, much of the country, like the United States, is located in an area where “extratropical” (outside the tropics) cyclone formation occurs.

Extratropical cyclones drive weather across much of the Earth and are commonly referred to in our region as low pressure systems, frontal systems, or synoptic lows—the latter less so because it is a more technical term in meteorological settings.

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Satellite image of an extratropical cyclone (Credit: NASA)

The 1972 Iran blizzard was an extraordinary event, as you’ll see in a moment.

The storm lasted seven days, from February 3 to February 9. However, several snowstorms in January had already blanketed the western half of the country.

Over the course of a week, heavy snowfall and below-freezing temperatures buried many rural areas under 10 feet of snow. Snowfall totaled up to 26 feet in parts of southern Iran.

This caused widespread tree damage and power outages, as well as burying homes and villages in enough snow to cover a two-and-a-half-story building. It’s difficult to picture.

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Cars, buses and people clog this street in Teheran, Iran, Feb. 11, 1972, after nearly eight feet of snow fell in the area. (AP Photo)

The death toll was unprecedented because there was no way to dig tunnels out of those homes that were so deeply buried in snow, no food, no medicine, no transportation, and no power to heat homes.

More than 4,000 people perished, with no survivors in some villages.

Rescuers attempted to provide food and aid but were compelled to flee when a second blizzard hit the nation a few days later on February 11.

The Great Blizzard of 1899 in February of that year was the deadliest blizzard in American history in terms of fatalities. The superstorm in March 1993 had the highest monetary cost.

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