40 Years Ago, Iran Was Hit by the Deadliest Blizzard in History


Blizzard image via Shutterstock

Forty years ago this week, the deadliest blizzard on record ripped through the lower Caucasus and into Iran, where it left 4,000 people dead. The Blizzard of 1972, as this hellish storm has come to be known, wasn’t your run of the mill squall; it wiped entire villages—200 villages, to be exact—off the map.

Coming on the heels of a series of storms in late January, the blizzard of 1972 traveled through western Iran and into Azerbaijan from about February 3 to February 8, dropping up to 26 feet of snow—that’s a two and half story building worth of snowfall—and snapping telephone lines, burying commuter trains, entombing villages, and crushing cars in its wake.

At the height of this blizzard, authorities estimated that a region about the size of Wisconsin, spanning most of western Iran, was entirely buried for more than a week. Those few who survived the -13 degree Fahrenheit temperatures were without water, food, heat and medical aid for days on end at a time when—just in case these poor people didn’t have enough to deal with—a deadly flu virus was also moving through rural Iran.

On February 9, 1972, after nearly a week of constant snowfall, the blizzard broke for a brief, but merciful, 24-hour period, allowing Iranian rescue workers to be transported by helicopter out to what looked essentially like enormous snow drifts—white expanses where villages used to be.

According to Associated Press reports, some rescue workers who’d been dropped on a snow drift burying a village called Sheklab dug for two days straight, burrowing through 8 feet of snow, only to find 18 frozen bodies and no one—not one single person in a population of 100—still alive.

Another blizzard started up again on February 11, forcing rescue workers to abandon their searches. Army helicopters left two tons of bread and dates scattered over the snowdrifts, in hopes that some people could tunnel their way to the surface, but many never did.

The second deadliest blizzard on record tore through Afghanistan in 2008, bringing -30 degree temperatures and killing an estimated 926 people.