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The two most famous winter storms in Nebraska history occurred in 1873 and in 1888. The storm which struck on April 13, 1873, was a violent snowfall accompanied by a high wind and moderate (rather than subzero) temperatures. The day dawned bright and clear on an Easter morning. During the afternoon showers occurred, which turned to sleet and then to a heavy snow. Driven by a strong wind it penetrated cracks in ill-finished pioneer homes and stuck to exposed livestock, causing many to fall and die in the heavy drifts.

The blizzard of 1888 differed from the 1873 storm; the wind and snowfall were accompanied by subzero weather. January 12, 1888, dawned clear. However, the warm sunny weather did not last; shortly after noon the wind rose to fifty-six miles per hour, and within a few hours the temperature dropped to thirty-six degrees below zero. The unexpected blizzard posed a dilemma for rural schoolteachers and parents of rural students: If the children left the schoolhouse, they might perish on the open prairie, but if they stayed, the parents would spend an anxious night of waiting or leave home to fetch their children. The best course proved to be to stay in shelter for as long as the blizzard lasted. Most of those stranded were able to return home the next day. No accurate count of the total deaths is possible but estimates for Nebraska have ranged from forty to one hundred.

Of course, there were other hard winters and other storms. The winter of 1948-49 saw northwestern Nebraska so badly snowed in that people and livestock were endangered. Caravans of snow-removal equipment were necessary to clear the roads. Planes were used to drop provisions to stranded residents and to marooned livestock ("Operation Haylift").

(February 1999)


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