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Midwest Severe "cold Wave" January 1888


WhiteFox

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Posted
  • Location: Reading/New York/Chicago
  • Location: Reading/New York/Chicago

I read a book a while ago called "Children of the Blizzard" about a severe cold spell that spread into the Midwest in January 1888. It was notable for many reasons. On the morning of the arrival of the cold front (12th January), the temperature in North Dakota was around -3oC, a very mild day for the region, and many children headed off to school in sunshine with no indication of the impending plunge in temperatures. The West was relatively underpopulated in those days, and the region from where the storm originated was isolated, with communications to the nearest centre of population in Minneapolis/St Paul relatively slow. In North Dakota, the towns and villages were remote from anywhere, and most people lived on homesteads and farmed the open countryside, so there was no easy way of communicating any information on the impending storm even if the severity had been realised. As it was, the period preceding January 12th had been cold as a winter storm had deposited snow across the region on the 5th. The warm up was an indication of the approaching low pressure drawing warmer air from the south.

The actual track of the storm is well described in the book "The Children's Blizzard" by David Laskin. SUffice to say, the storm hit communities in Nebraska around 3pm, just as children were leaving school. The front is described as like the advance of darkness accompanied by a fierce rushing sound. WIthin minutes, blizzard conditions set in and visibility was reduced to zero as heavy snow and gale force winds obscured everything. Anyone who has been to the Midwest knows that the whole region looks like it has been carefully ironed, so there was no shelter. Temperatures rapidly dropped from close to freezing to -40oC a couple of hours later. 235 lost their lives during the storm, most of them schoolchildren.

The storm was remarkable both for its intensity, and the cold temperatures it brought. Some records:

Fort Keogh, MT: -54oC the lowest recorded in the lower 48 states until it was just beaten in West Yellowstone, MT in 1938

St Paul, MN (the largest settlement by far until you reach Seattle, 1666 miles away (although in those days it was nothing): -41oC

Key West, FL: 5oC (equalled in 1993)

San Antonio, TX: -11oC

The lack of communication about the storm led to many changes in the way that weather was tracked in the United States. Communication and warning systems were improved, and resources were devoted to implementing better early warnings by placing more stations in the North West where the worst of the weather originates.

In the same year, there was a great blizzard on the East Coast in March, but that's another topic...

BTW, charts dating back to the 1880s for the US can be found here: http://docs.lib.noaa.gov/rescue/dwm/data_rescue_daily_weather_maps.html

You'll need to install the reader to view them. It's interesting to see just how few observations are available for the western third of the country!

Edited by WhiteFox
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Posted
  • Location: Derbyshire Peak District
  • Weather Preferences: Anything extreme
  • Location: Derbyshire Peak District

Very interesting, White Fox. It certainly puts into perspective the cold fronts we get in these benign islands where a drop in temperature of 8c is noteworthy.

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Posted
  • Location: Lincoln, Lincolnshire
  • Weather Preferences: Sunshine, convective precipitation, snow, thunderstorms, "episodic" months.
  • Location: Lincoln, Lincolnshire

The Wetterzentrale archive chart for the 12th January 1888 shows the plunge over the USA very clearly:

http://www.wetterzentrale.de/pics/archive/ra/1888/Rrea00118880112.gif

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Posted
  • Location: Edmonton Alberta(via Chelmsford, Exeter & Calgary)
  • Weather Preferences: Sunshine and 15-25c
  • Location: Edmonton Alberta(via Chelmsford, Exeter & Calgary)

The Wetterzentrale archive chart for the 12th January 1888 shows the plunge over the USA very clearly:

http://www.wetterzen...00118880112.gif

This chart doesnt show the mid west..this shows the north eastern USA and eastern Canada..this isnt the storm thats is being talked about

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Posted
  • Location: Reading/New York/Chicago
  • Location: Reading/New York/Chicago

This chart doesnt show the mid west..this shows the north eastern USA and eastern Canada..this isnt the storm thats is being talked about

Observations were very limited over large portions of the US at the time. The link in the original post does give charts back to the early 1880s however. BTW, I suspect Edmonton also had a very cold spell around this time; the front originated over Canada and swept down through Montana.

Edited by WhiteFox
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