The Great Ohio Valley Snowstorm of 2004

December 13, 2021 // Article by: Steve Copertino

As we look back at memorable winter storms in the Midwest, a lot of folks will never forget the great Ohio Valley snowstorm that occurred December 21st - 23rd , 2004. In many parts of the region, it ranks as the worst winter storm on record.  It started as a meager area of low pressure and it's associated cold front as dropped southward out of Canada and into the Ohio Valley.  However, with "weather traffic" to the east, the storm stalled and quickly strengthened.  At the same time, moisture from the Gulf of Mexico was pulled into the storm and on top of the dense cold air.  This produced widespread (and heavy) snow, sleet, and freezing rain.  Dayton, Ohio recieved 13 inches of snow while Cincinnati got almost 10 inches.  Both locations received a healthy accumulation of sleet as well.  Central Indiana including Indianapolis saw 8 - 12 inches of snow, but accumulations were twice that as you got into southern Indiana.  Columbus, Ohio was on the northeast fringe of the storm, only got about 4 inches of snow.  But, the city received a lot of freezing rain that resulted in a significant amount of ice.

Hundreds of thousands were left without power as winds gusted over 40 mph for almost 3 days up and down the Ohio Valley.  Thousands were left stranded as all transportation was ground to a halt. In western Kentucky, there was a 29 mile traffic jam on Interstate 24 which stranded nearly 1,000 people in their cars overnight. The National Guard had to eventually be called out to rescue these folks.  32 inches of snow fell in Washington County, Indiana while nearly 6 inches of sleet fell in Henry County, Kentucky.  And due to the high winds, snow drifted up to 5 feet in some locations.  Thundersnow and thundersleet were observed during this event along with snowfall rates approaching 4 inches per hour in some southern Indiana locations.  The storm was then followed by a large outbreak of Arctic air that sent temperatures plummeting to below zero at night across most of the Ohio Valley.

Ohio reported an estimated 442,000 homes and businesses were left without electricity. The storm was also the opening salvo of a record-setting season that produced almost 120 inches of snow to most of metropolitan Cleveland.

Insured property losses approached $230 million and the total financial impact of this extraordinary event was estimated at $900 million. Its impact extended from Texas to southern Ontario in Canada, a distance of approximately 1,400 miles.  Unfortunately, 17 people across the country died in storm related incidents.