Surface analysis of Blizzard on January 13, 1888.
|Formed||January 12, 1888|
|Dissipated||January 13, 1888|
|Maximum snowfall or ice accretion||6 inches (15 cm)|
|Areas affected||Mid-Western US|
This article is about the blizzard in the Great Plains of the United States. For the blizzard during the same year in the eastern United States and Canada see Great Blizzard of 1888.
The Schoolhouse Blizzard, also known as the Schoolchildren's Blizzard, School Children's Blizzard, or Children's Blizzard, hit the U.S. plains states on January 12, 1888. The blizzard came unexpectedly on a relatively warm day, and many people were caught unaware, including children in one-room schoolhouses.
The Blizzard of 1888
The blizzard was preceded by a snowstorm on January 5 and 6, which dropped powdery snow on the northern and central plains, and was followed by an outbreak of brutally cold temperatures from January 7 to 11.
The weather prediction for the day was issued by the Weather Bureau, which at the time was managed by Adolphus Greely; it said: "A cold wave is indicated for Dakota and Nebraska tonight and tomorrow; the snow will drift heavily today and tomorrow in Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin."
On January 11, a strengthening surface low dropped south-southeastward out of Alberta, Canada into central Montana and then into northeastern Colorado by the morning of January 12. The temperatures in advance of the low increased some 20–40 degrees in the central plains (for example, Omaha, Nebraska recorded a temperature of −6 °F (−21 °C) at 7 a.m. on January 11, while the temperature had increased to 28 °F (−2 °C) by 7 a.m. on January 12). The strong surface low rapidly moved into southeastern Nebraska by 3 p.m. on January 12 and finally into southwestern Wisconsin by 11 p.m. that same day.
The blizzard was precipitated by the collision of an immense Arctic cold front with warm, moisture-laden air from the Gulf of Mexico. Within a few hours, the advancing cold front caused a temperature drop from a few degrees above freezing to −20 degrees Fahrenheit (−40 °F/−40 °C in some places). This wave of cold was accompanied by high winds and heavy snow. The fast-moving storm first struck Montana in the early hours of January 12, swept through Dakota Territory from midmorning to early afternoon, and reached Lincoln, Nebraska at 3 p.m.
What made the storm so deadly was the timing (during work and school hours), the suddenness, and the brief spell of warmer weather that preceded it. In addition, the very strong wind fields behind the cold front and the powdery nature of the snow reduced visibilities on the open plains to zero. People ventured from the safety of their homes to do chores, go to town, attend school, or simply enjoy the relative warmth of the day. As a result, thousands of people—including many schoolchildren—got caught in the blizzard. The death toll was 235. Teachers generally kept children in their schoolrooms. Exceptions nearly always resulted in disaster.
Travel was severely impeded in the days following.
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- Plainview, Nebraska: Lois Royce found herself trapped with three of her students in her schoolhouse. By 3 p.m., they had run out of heating fuel. Her boarding house was only 82 yards (75 m) away, so she attempted to lead the children there. However, visibility was so poor that they became lost and the children, two nine-year-old boys and a six-year-old girl, froze to death. The teacher survived, but her feet were frostbitten and had to be amputated.
- Holt County, Nebraska: Etta Shattuck, a nineteen-year-old schoolhouse teacher, got lost on her way home, and sought shelter in a haystack. She remained trapped there until her rescue 78 hours later by Daniel D. Murphy and his hired men. She died on February 6 (an early account said February 7) around 9 A.M. due to complications from surgery to remove her frostbitten feet and legs.
- In Great Plains, South Dakota, the children were rescued. Two men tied a rope to the closest house, and headed for the school. There, they tied off the other end of the rope, and led the children to safety.
- Mira Valley, Nebraska: Minnie Freeman safely led thirteen children from her schoolhouse to her home, one half mile (800 m) away. The rumor she used a rope to keep the children together during the blinding storm is widely circulated, but one of the children claims that is not true. She took them to the boarding house she lived at about a mile away and all of her pupils survived. Many children in similar conditions around the Great Plains were not so lucky, as 235 people were killed, most of them children who couldn't get home from school. That year, "Song of the Great Blizzard: Thirteen Were Saved" or "Nebraska's Fearless Maid", was written and recorded in her honor by William Vincent and published by Lyon & Healy.
- Ted Kooser, Nebraska poet, has recorded many of the stories of the Schoolhouse Blizzard in his book of poetry "The Blizzard Voices."
- In 1967, a haunting Venetian glass mural of The Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888 by Jeanne Reynal was installed on the west wall of the north bay in the Nebraska State Capitol building in Lincoln, Nebraska for the 1967 Centennial Celebration. It captures much of the mood and drama of the storm. The mural, in a semi-abstract style, portrays a purported incident in which a schoolteacher, Minnie Freeman, tied her children together with a clothesline and led them through the storm to safety.
Affected states and territories
Many of these states were just United States territories at the time:
- South Dakota (territory)
- North Dakota (territory)
- Montana (territory)
- Wyoming (territory)
- Idaho (territory)
- The Schoolchildren's Blizzard
- The Big Brash Blizzard of 1888
- Streever, Bill (2009). Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places. New York: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 22–26.
- Laskin, David (2004). The Children's Blizzard. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-052076-0.
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA'S WEBSITE The Worst Natural Disasters by Death Toll Retrieved on 2011-01-04.
- "The Western Blizzard". Vermont's Northland Journal 10 (1): 17. April 2011.
- Bristow, David L. (January–February 2008). "Etta's Blizzard". Nebraska Life 12 (1): 43.
- Waterman, John Henry (1920). General History of Seward County, Nebraska. Beaver Crossing, Nebraska. p. 215.
- Staff writer (1988-02-09). "Minnie Freeman's Nerve". The Ludington Daily News.
- "THE BLIZZARD OF 1888". Nebraska State Historical Society. Retrieved 2008-01-11.
- Wyckoff, Donald; Perry Kelly; James A. Schwalbach; Naomi Dietz (March 1967). "Regional News". Art Education 20 (3): 41, 44–45. JSTOR 3190973.
- The Weather Notebook: Schoolhouse Blizzard
- Old Time Nebraska -- The Big Brash Blizzard
- Todayshistorylesson.wordpress.com/ Children's Blizzard of 1888
- David Laskin, The Children's Blizzard (2004) ISBN 0-06-052075-2
- Reader's Digest, Discovering America's Past (1993) ISBN 0-89577-520-4