Temperature plummets Jan. 29, reminiscent of deadly 1888 storm
Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008: It began as a beautiful morning in Marshall. At 8:50 a.m., the sun was shining. On the square in the middle of town, no one was wearing a coat, much less a pair of gloves.
By 9:15 a.m., the picture had changed considerably. The wind picked up abruptly, rattling windows in the courthouse, and the temperature dropped 10 degrees in a matter of minutes. The sun disappeared as storm clouds gathered overhead.
This kind of weather isn't unusual for mid-winter in the center of the United States, where the weather is subject to rapid change in any season.
Thursday, Jan. 12, 1888: It also began as a beautiful morning on the Nebraska plains.
On that morning, temperatures rose so high from previously-frigid levels that children set off on foot from their homes without their usual heavy clothing.
Unlike Marshall residents today with plenty of warning from weather forecasters to expect rain, then snow and frigid temperatures by evening, they had no idea what was coming their way.
In his book, "The Children's Blizzard," author David Laskin reported that more than 100 of those children, some say many more than that, did not survive the day. In all, as many as 500 people died in one of the worst snowstorms ever experienced in the United States.
The storm gathered so quickly there was little time for preparation. At mid-morning the blizzard came roaring in. In a mere three minutes in some areas, the temperature dropped 18 degrees; by nightfall, wind chills sank to -40 degrees as the blizzard howled across the plains.
News of the storm reached Saline County later in the week. Although the area experienced very cold temperatures during the period, the storm was not the vicious killer here that it was on the Great Plains.
The Miami Weekly News noted the cold weather locally -- "We had a hard snow storm last Thursday." And "Ice is now about 18 inches thick." It also reported on the quick change in conditions -- "A change of forty degrees in a few hours is not suggestive of a mild, Italian climate."
And in the same issue, under the headline "The Storm's Pitiless Work," the paper reprinted this information from a St. Paul, Minn., newspaper: "The terrible story of the blizzard is not yet half told, but the list of casualties has already reached appalling proportions."
The story of the dead included: John Loy, who froze to death less than 100 yards from his house, when he went out to water the cattle; Cora Curtis, a young schoolteacher, who was found beneath a 6-foot drift of snow; and the three young sons of Peter Heins, who died together in a pasture two miles from their school.
Area residents -- forewarned and better equipped to weather winter weather --hope and expect to avoid such casualties from the storms forecast to roll through this week. But the abrupt 40-degree temperature drop Tuesday reminds us that 120 years ago, we were more vulnerable than we are today.
Contact Kathy Fairchild at email@example.com