Snow Storm

The iconic blizzard of 1948-49 is just one of many historic winter storms to strike Nebraska. This photo is courtesy of the National Weather Service.

Nebraska is known for its unpredictable weather. You can leave your house in a t-shirt and jeans in the morning and need a winter coat by the evening. The state’s slogan, “It’s not for everyone” says it all. You must be tough to withstand some of Nebraska’s weather. Especially when Jack Frost decides to take up residence in the state and unleash super storms.

So far, this winter has been mild. We’ve had some snow and icy roads, a day of dangerous freezing temperatures, and road closures, but there haven’t been any disasters like the historic Schoolchildren’s Blizzard of 1888.

January 12, 1888, started off as a warm day. Children and teachers left their homes without winter attire, excited for the sun and ready for studies. The warmth came after several days of bitter cold. Spirits were high until a sudden blizzard struck Nebraska that afternoon. The temperature dropped, bitter winds swept through the plains, and snow fell continuously, creating a white wall that was near impossible to see through.

Students and teachers were trapped in their schools without their warm clothing. According to onlyinyourstate.com most of the children and teachers who attempted to brave the storm and return to their homes perished in the unforgiving weather.

During the Schoolchildren’s Blizzard, a 19-year-old schoolteacher named Minnie Freeman was trapped in a one-room schoolhouse with her 13 students, in Ord. Freeman’s story is told in detail on onlyinyourstate.com and a fictional story of a student trapped in the storm is read by kids across the nation in Lauren Tarshis’ I Survived the Children’s Blizzard, 1888.

Freeman was a young teacher and when the wind blew the door of her schoolhouse off its hinges and tore off the building’s roof, she knew she had to make a drastic decision to save her students. She knew that if she and the children stayed in the building, they would not survive the night, so she grabbed twine from her desk and used it to tie her students together in a line. When an opening in the storm arrived, Freeman rushed her class out of the building.

Freeman’s goal was a house three-quarters of a mile away. She knew if they could make it to the settlement that her class would be safe. Her students clung to each other and followed her directions as she rushed them through the storm, only stopping briefly at semi-sheltered areas. Because of Freeman’s bravery and quick thinking, she and all 13 of her students survived with minimal injuries.

In 1948, another historic winter struck Nebraska. Like with the Children’s Blizzard, the day began with mild temperatures. No one expected they would spend from November to April snowed in. However, on Nov. 18, 1948, winter swept through the state in full force, trapping people in their homes, closing roads, forcing trains to stop running, and killing livestock.

President Truman ended up declaring a state of emergency in January. The government launched its relief efforts to help minimize the storm’s damage, but by that time it was too late. Too much livestock had died from what would become known as The Worst Winter Ever. Farmers and ranchers suffered massive losses and the economy took a huge hit.

Only a couple decades later, another big snowstorm struck Nebraska. On Jan. 9, 1975, a storm started sweeping through the United States. On Jan. 10, it reached Nebraska with rare January tornados, more than a foot of snow, and record-low barometric pressure. Winds reached up to 50 miles per hour and there was little to no visibility outside.

On Oct. 31, 1991, a winter storm was predicted to strike, but no one knew how bad it would be. Trick-or-treaters were saddened when Halloween ended up being canceled as freezing temperatures rolled in. Ice fell, covering the streets and homes in a solid sheet. Then 5.7 inches of snow followed.

Six years later, another October storm hit. Lincoln and Omaha were hit hard from Oct. 24-26, with heavy snowfall and drastic temperatures. Onlyinyourstate.com stated that thousands of trees were damaged, hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were without power, and Halloween was canceled.

Though I was alive for two of the above-mentioned snowstorms, I do not remember them. I was a little thing, less than a month only in 1991 and only six in 1997. However, I remember a storm that swept through Grand Island in the early 2000’s. School was canceled for a week due to the ice storm. Powerlines fell, roads were too dangerous to travel, and going outside was risky for your health. Back then I was young and didn’t quite understand the dire situation, but I remember my parents’ throwing blankets and pillows into the living room, covering all the windows with blankets or garbage bags to block out the cold, and shutting all the doors in the house.

“We need to conserve heat,” my dad told me. For almost a week my siblings and I were kept in the living room, kitchen, or bathroom areas of our home. We played board games and were not allowed outside, even to let our dogs out. Our dad handled everything outside and our mom made the hottest meals she could. I remember it as a fun time of family bonding but looking back I bet my parents were terrified.

With Nebraska weather being as unpredictable as it is and our history with blizzards, is it any wonder why people rush to the stores, buying out the essentials, when a snowstorm is on the radar? The next time you are stuck inside with your family while Jack Frost throws a temper tantrum, remember that things could be much worse and thank the Creator for the time you get to spend with your loved ones.