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The Really Cold Winter by Mark Green
mark green / 02 March 2022 / 0 Comment

The Really Cold Winter

The worst winter of my memory, after 68 winters, was the winter of 1978. We lived at Clarksville at the time in a drafty old house with ten-foot ceilings. When we were able to see our breath in the bedroom, I told Pam it was time for us all to move into the front bedroom with the two boys and just be cozy.

There was over a foot of snow, I remember, and it stayed on the ground for at least a week. It seemed like school was never going to get started again. I remember that in three consecutive 24-hour periods, the official low was at least ten degrees below zero.  

I can also remember a couple of occasions when I was a child that our pond froze to a thickness sufficient for us to be able to play tin can ice hockey on it.

None of those, however, even remotely compares with the Snow Winter of 1880-1881. For those of you who have read it, this is the winter that is described by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her book, “The Long Winter.” It is widely considered the worst winter in United States history, or at least as long as we have a record of such things.

The first blizzard struck in October of 1880 and was followed by blast after blast until March, leaving many areas stranded for the entire winter. Indian Summer had lasted to October and folks were taking their time with preparations for the winter. Suddenly, without warning, midway through the month, the storm hit. As blizzard followed blizzard, by mid-December snowdrifts completely covered single story buildings. By January, trains had suspended service because the snow was higher than the rolling stock. On February 2, another blizzard hit that lasted for nine days.

Finally, the temperature warmed and the snow quickly began to melt, causing another crisis – flooding. Vast sections of the plains were under water. The town of Yankton, SD was almost entirely washed away.

So, the next time you read The Long Winter, you can remember that it really did happen, and Mrs. Wilder was not exaggerating her account of the crisis.


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