December 2008 North American snowstorms

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The December 2008 North American snowstorms were a series of snowstorms that struck across Canada and the US. The snowstorms caused snow to fall across Canada and many parts of the United States, and broke records for the amount of snow accumulated in many cities on Christmas Day.


The snowstorms caused Canada to have the first "nationwide" white Christmas since 1971.[1]

British Columbia


The series of snowstorms broke a 44-year-old record for the snowiest Christmas ever, with up to 28 inches (71 cm) of snow accumulated in some parts of the South Coast. It was the first "official" white Christmas in Vancouver since 1998. In fact, Vancouver would be the Canadian city with the greatest snow depth for the Christmas Day of 2008.[2][3] Vancouver experienced many snowfalls including snowstorms on December 21st and on the 24th, breaking daily snowfall records.

Vancouver International Airport recorded 22.4 centimeters (9 in) and 26.8 centimeters (11 in) on the 21st and on the 24th respectively. Higher elevations and cities northeast of Vancouver, such as Coquitlam, received over 30 centimeters (12 in) of snow with each of the storms. The snow, however, was also accompanied by frigid temperatures such as the −15.2 °C (5 °F) on the 20th, which broke the daily low temperature record at the airport which is situated at sea level. It happened to be the coldest temperature recorded in December for 40 years; dating back to the −17.8 °C (0 °F) on the 29th in 1968. [4]

Another snowstorm on the 26th brought an additional 15.6 centimeters (6 in) of snow at the airport, which led to some roof collapses.[5] When recorded, the monthly snowfall for December stood at an astonishing near 90 centimeters (35 in) .[6]


Two avalanches occurred near Fernie, British Columbia, as a result of the snowstorms that dumped approximately 27 inches (69 cm) in the region. The first avalanche buried a group of seven men, and a second avalanche buried a group of four that were trying to help the first group. Three men pulled themselves out of the snow, but eight died in the avalanches.[7]


Areas of Southern Ontario saw above average snowfall throughout much of December 2008. Areas like Toronto saw over 60 cm (24 in) in December and near Lake Huron and Georgian Bay snowfall amounts were in excess of 100+cm. Many areas near London, Ontario and near the shorelines of Lake Huron had seen above average snowfall as well.[8]

United States



Thick fog caused by the storms were responsible for flight cancellations in both the Chicago Midway Airport and the US's second busiest airport, O'Hare International Airport. On December 26th hundreds of flights were canceled. Operations began to return to normal the following day, though over a hundred flights were still canceled.[9]



The snowstorms were responsible for the most December snowfall in Portland, Oregon in 40 years[10] (however, the snowiest December in Portland was 1884, with over 31 inches (79 cm)[10] of snow). The City of Portland reported spending an estimated $2.17 million on snow removal, deicing of roads, and employee overtime due to the record levels of snowfall.[11]

Tri-Met suspended two-thirds of its bus lines.[12] Hundreds of flights arriving and departing from Portland International Airport were canceled, leaving passengers and luggage stranded.[13] Garbage services, privately run in the Portland area, were also canceled for over two weeks.[14]


A snowy hill in downtown Seattle in December 2008.


The winter weather greatly affected the Seattle area, where snow brought the city to a standstill and temperatures reached record lows. Many holiday travelers were unable to reach their destinations when Greyhound canceled bus service, airlines canceled flights at Sea-Tac International Airport, and Amtrak shut down passenger service between Eugene, Oregon and Vancouver, British Columbia.[15][16]

The city of Seattle was criticized over its response to the snowfall. Mayor Greg Nickels initially gave the city a "B" for its response to the snowstorm, but the director of the Department of Transportation admitted the city should have done things differently.[17][18][19] The Seattle Department of Transportation did not use salt on the icy roads, opting instead to put sand and a chemical de-icer on the roads. The snowplows used by the city did not clear the roads entirely of snow, instead creating a hard snow-packed surface; this was done to minimize damage to the roads.[20] The mayor later stated the city would use salt during future snowstorms,[21] but the heavy criticism may have contributed to incumbent Mayor Nickels coming in third place in the next primary election.[22]

See also


  1. ^ [1] King, Tamara. The Canadian Press. "Canada has white Christmas." 25 December 2008.
  2. ^ [2] CBC News. "Snowstorm strands thousands overnight at Vancouver Airport." 22 December 2008
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-12-08. Retrieved 2013-07-04. The Vancouver Province. "Vancouver less than centimetre short of December snow record." 31 December 2008.
  4. ^ [3] "Daily Data Report for December 1968".
  5. ^ [4]CTV News Vancouver. "B.C.'s Lower Mainland hit with new snow storm." 26 December 2008.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-07-07. Retrieved 2013-07-09.
  7. ^ [5] BBC News. "Eighth body found in Canada snow." 30 December 2008.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-06-29. Retrieved 2013-07-05. Environment Canada. "Ontario Weather Review December 2008." 21 January 2009.
  9. ^ [6] Tarm, Michael. Associated Press. "Floods could follow Ice in Midwest" 27 December 2008.
  10. ^ a b [7] NOAA. "Public Information Statement" 22 December 2008
  11. ^ [8] Portland Bureau of Transportation. "History of Snow and Ice Events in Portland: December 2008 Storm."
  12. ^ [9] Mortenson, Eric. The Oregonian. "TriMet says it's doing 'extraordinary job'." 23 December 2008.
  13. ^ [10] Hannah-Jones, Nikole. The Oregonian. "Icy snowstorm slows region to a crawl." 21 December 2008.
  14. ^ [11] Milstein, Michael. The Oregonian. "Extra garbage trucks making rounds after storms." 29 December 2008.
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-05-02. Retrieved 2009-11-30. Karen Gaudette, Nicole Tsong and Sara Jean Green. "Record low temperature set this morning." Seattle Times. December 15, 2008.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-04-30. Retrieved 2009-11-30. Carol Pucci, Marc Ramirez and Jennifer Sullivan. "Travelers in holding pattern for holidays." Seattle Times. December 23, 2008.
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-05-02. Retrieved 2009-11-30. Doughton, Sandi. "Mayor Nickels gives city 'B' grade for snow response." Seattle Times. December 24, 2008.
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-04-28. Retrieved 2009-11-30. Heffter, Emily. "Seattle transportation official on snowstorm response: "We blew it"." Seattle Times. February 20, 2009.
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-07-05. Retrieved 2013-07-05. Kelleher, Susan. "Seattle DOT botched snow response." Seattle Times. 19 March 2009.
  20. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-04-11. Retrieved 2009-11-30. Kelleher, Susan. "Seattle refuses to use salt; roads "snow packed" by design." Seattle Times. December 23, 2008.
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-01-03. Retrieved 2009-01-05. Heffter, Emily. "After storm of criticism, Seattle mayor reverses no-salt policy for snow." Seattle Times. January 1, 2009.
  22. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-11-12. Retrieved 2010-11-22. KIRO-TV, "Then-Mayor Greg Nickels received heavy criticism for his office’s response to the weather and it may have even contributed to failed re-election bid."
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