St. Patrick’s Day Storms Fact or Fiction?

One doesn’t have to live on Prince Edward Island very long to realize that weather plays an important role in beginning a lot of conversations. By early March people start talking about the St. Patrick’s Day storm which is based on anecdotal evidence, and they will tell you that once we get this storm that winter in over as any snow after March 17th won’t last very long. Any snowstorm between March 10th and 20th is typically labelled as a St. Paddy’s Day storm which is named after the patron saint of Ireland who died about 461 supposedly on March 17th.  

A search of available records has provided some interesting information about the frequency and occurrence of this Island tradition to confirm if this claim is based on solid fact.

DateStorm DescriptionSource
March 18, 1765Cloudy with snow, wind SSWSamuel Holland
March 18, 1836Snow from SSE. Wind changes to SW at 10am.Daniel Hodgson
March 18, 1843Still snows strong. Winds ENE. A good deal of snow falling.Daniel Hodgson
March 17, 1856Snowing someHenry Cundall Diary
March 17, 1857Raining and snowingHenry Cundall Diary
March 17, 1862Snowstorm continues from previous day.L. C. Jenkins Diary
March 16, 1866First thunder and lightning storm of the season, some thought it was a warning to the Fenians who were planning a raid to homesExaminer, March 19, 1866
March 17, 1870A snowstorm started at 10:00amGuardian, Jan. 30, 1952
March 17, 1872Major snowstorm, man named MacMillan died on ice on Hillsborough River. Stormed for 3 days.Daily Examiner, Jan. 15, 1894
March 17, 1895Trains all delayed due to storm. No ice boat crossing.Daily Examiner, March 18, 1895
March 17, 1896St. Patrick’s opened with a howling wind and snow, typical of St. Patrick’sImpartial, March 26, 1896
March 17, 1901Snow on railway between Piusville & Elmsdale within 8 feet of the top of the telegraph postsGuardian, March 18, 1901
March 18th, 191517.8 cm of snow at Charlottetown CDA. A total of 29.3 cm from 12th to 15th.EC Historical Climate Data
March 16-17th, 191635.5 cm of snow at Charlottetown CDA. On the 23rd and 24th an additional  71.5 cm .EC Historical Climate Data
March 15, 191817.8 cm of snow at Charlottetown CDAEC Historical Climate Data
March 14, 192317.8 cm of snow at Charlottetown CDAEC Historical Climate Data
March 19-20th, 192422.9 cm of snow over two days at CharlottetownEC Historical Climate Data
March 14-15th, 192525.4 cm of snow at Charlottetown CDAEC Historical Climate Data
March 19, 193012.7 cm of snow at Charlottetown CDAEC Historical Climate Data
March 18-19th , 193127.9 cm of snow at Charlottetown CDAEC Historical Climate Data
March 17, 1939The annual St. Patrick’s Day storm tied up potato and turnip movement. There was 30.5 cm of snow on the 13th and 2.5 cm on the 17th.Guardian, March 18, 1939, EC Historical Climate data.
March 17, 1943Customary St. Patrick’s Day StormGuardian, March 18, 1943
March 16, 1949Blizzard, no school, and very bad roadsWillScott Farm Diaries
March 17, 1955A severe storm on St. Patrick’s Day covered the western part of PEI and made travelling impossibleGuardian, March 24, 1955
March 17, 1956PEI was blanketed with 10 inches (25 cm)  of snow whipped by 35 mph NE winds bringing PEI to a standstillGuardian, March 19, 1956
March, 1961A series of snowstorms 2 weeks prior to St. Patrick’s Day isolated many rural areas. 33.8 cm of snow from 14th to 17th at CharlottetownGuardian, March 18, 2015. EC Historical Climate Data.
March 18, 1963St Patrick’s Day play at Birchwood School in Charlottetown postponed due to storm. 38.3 cm of snow at Charlottetown CDAGuardian, March 20, 1963. EC Historical Climate Data.
March 18, 196419.1 cm of snow at Charlottetown CDAEC Historical Climate Data
March 11-17th, 1967A total of 59.4 cm of snow over this periodEC Historical Climate Data
March 15, 1975There was 17.8 cm of snow at CharlottetownEC Historical Climate Data
March 17, 197622.7 cm of snow at CharlottetownEC Historical Climate Data
March 19, 197727.6 cm of snow at CharlottetownEC Historical Climate Data
March 17, 19788 cm of snow at CharlottetownEC Historical Climate Data
March 15, 198617.8 cm of snow at CharlottetownEC Historical Climate Data
March 16-17, 1987A ferocious 2-day snowstorm with 19 cm at Summerside, 31.3 cm at Charlottetown, and 31 cm Tignish.Journal Pioneer, March 17, 1987; Guardian, March 18, 2015; EC Historical Climate Data.
March 18, 1989There was 17.2 cm of snow at CharlottetownEC Historical Climate Data
March 17-18, 1993There was 28.4 cm of snow at CharlottetownEC Historical Climate Data
March 15-17, 1999There was 15.6 cm of snow at CharlottetownEC Historical Climate Data
March 17, 2000Winds of up to 100 kilometres-an-hour whipped over 21.6 centimetres of snow into whiteouts that made driving treacherous in Queens County.Guardian, March 18, 2015.
March 17, 20039.8 cm of snow at CharlottetownEC Historical Climate Data
March 13-16th, 2014An early St. Patrick’s Day storm was forecast to bring snow, blowing snow and ice pellets. A total of 47 cm of snow fell the 5 days leading up the St. Patrick’s DayGuardian, March 13, 2014; EC Historical Climate Data.
March 16, 2015From March 15th to 18th, over 74 cm of snow fell at CharlottetownEC Historical Climate Data.
March 17, 2020A snowfall of 7 cm at CharlottetownEC Historical Climate Data

The above table lists over 40 documented snowstorm events which happened on or within a few days of March 17th. David Ross of Marshfield describes a severe 4-day snowstorm from March 14-17, 1872 in his diary, which shut down transportation of all kinds. Other severe storms are listed including the years 1916, 1955, 1961, 1987, 2000 and 2015. This provides sufficient  justification for the long-held tradition as these storms are frequent enough to refresh memories of past storms during the last week of the winter season when people have a heightened anticipation about warmer weather ahead and a strong desire to be done with winter. This tradition may be in jeopardy due to climate change as temperatures gradually rise and the winter season shortens.

Snowbank with car imprint, March 17, 2015
Snowbank at Winsloe South after St. Patrick’s Storm, March 17, 2015

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