Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Great Blizzards of 1888

Each time we have a weather event, I can't help but wonder how people coped with blizzards before 24/7 weather forecasting. Today we watch a storm cross the country and see the effects as they happen.

Very few Native Americans died during the blizzard of 1888.

The Native Americans watch not only the skies but paid attention to all nature to help them predict what might happen each season. Throughout history and still today, people try to understand, predict and control weather. Before modern day methods of predicting the weather, other methods were used. Native Americans tried to control or influence the weather with prayers, incantations, smoking or burning tobacco, using charms or dancing. Most methods of forecasting were based on observation and experiences with observing patterns (”If ___ happens, then ___ will happen”). These are not always reliable or true. Farmers, shepherds, sailors and hunters relied on folklore to predict the weather. Farmers and shepherds watched the animals, clouds and the color of the sky. Sailors observed the wind and the motion of the waves. Hunters observed insects and animal behavior.

The Schoolchildren's Blizzard:

  • January 12, 1888
  • U.S. Midwest
  • Approximately 235 people lost their lives. (This was a large amount in comparison to the amount of people living in the Midwest at the time of the blizzard.)
  • Was a warm day that quickly turned into a storm
  • Since it came without warning, the amount of devastation was greatly increased.
  • Went from 70 F to -10 F (-40 F in some places) in a few hours
  • Lasted for only a few hours from the afternoon until early evening (3 – 4 feet of snow in that amount of time)
  • Was hard to get around for at least 3 days after the storm was over – compare today’s means of transportation and communication (snow plows, salt trucks, paved roads, rescue vehicles, phones, radio, television, etc.)
  • Is called the schoolchildren’s blizzard because in many places, children were trapped in their schoolhouses (in many cases they had to stay overnight)
  • Most of the schoolhouses were one-room with wood or coal burning stoves.
  • Resulted in the loss of life and the loss of property, travel was severely impeded in the following days.
  • The wind was so loud and strong that people who were only 6 feet away from each other could not hear one another talk.
  • The snow was so heavy that people who were only 4 ft. away from each other could not see each other.
The Schoolchildren’s Blizzard took place from the Rockies to the Mississippi River west to east and from Canada to Texas north to South. The states that were affected by the storm are: North and South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas. Many of these states were just territories during the time of the blizzard.

During the Schoolchildren’s Blizzard, the snow and wind were so strong that a person could not see two feet in front of them and could not hear people 6 ft in front of them. This snow blindness led to disorientation when people tried to get to a safe shelter. Many people lost their lives or suffered injuries because they could not find their way. People tried many different techniques to find their way. They tied themselves to each other to stay together. This technique was used by a one room school teacher named Minnie Mae Freeman from Ord, Nebraska. She single-handedly saved her schoolhouse full of children from the storm by tying them all together to find their way to safety. People tied ropes to a building. As they went out to search for others, they let the rope act as a guide to get back. Some remembered the layout of the land; a row of sunflower stocks, a drainage ditch or a fence. These landmarks help guide people who were in a barn or shed when the storm hit.

The east coast wasn't spared winter's grip in 1888.
The Great Blizzard of 1888 or Great Blizzard of '88 (March 11 – March 14, 1888) was one of the most severe blizzards in United States' recorded history. Snowfalls of 40-50 inches fell in parts of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, and sustained winds of over 45 miles per hour produced snowdrifts in excess of 50 feet. Railroads were shut down and people were confined to their houses for up to a week

Sound familiar?