Nebraska Nature February 04, 2017
A Massive Blizzard Blanketed Nebraska In Snow In 1949 And It Will Never Be Forgotten
Nebraska is no stranger to severe weather of all types, but a few storms stand out in our state history. The blizzard of 1949 was an epic storm that actually started in November 1948 and kept going relentlessly for months.
The fall harvest had been especially bountiful in 1948. By the end of the season, many farmers and ranchers had a positive outlook for the following year...until the first storm struck on November 18th.
Central and northeastern Nebraska were buried under 24 inches of snow in some places. The snow disabled roads and stopped trains; it buried homes and cut off phone service. Informal search parties set out to rescue people who had become stranded on rural roads. As bad as it seemed at the time, it would not be the most severe storm Nebraska would see that season.
A smaller storm struck in December, but nothing could have prepared residents for what would happen on January 2nd and 3rd.
Heavy rain on the 2nd turned into heavy snow, burying much of western, central, and northern Nebraska. Extreme winds of 50-60 MPH whipped the snow around wildly as temperatures dropped dramatically. Enormous drifts formed, cutting off farms and ranches from the rest of the world. Families had to pray that they would not have a medical emergency, because there was no getting to a hospital through the massive amounts of snow.
Residents did what they could to clear passages, but even trains with huge snow plows couldn't navigate these conditions.
Families and communities began to ration food. Some burned furniture to stay warm. Livestock died off in huge numbers - some from exposure, others from hunger and lack of water. The already-fragile economy was now in ruins; the cattle and sheep that did survive couldn't be sent to market because the trains couldn't get through.
Another blizzard in late January prompted President Truman to declare Nebraska a disaster area. On January 29th, Operation Snowbound was launched.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a massive effort to clear roads, deliver food to stranded families, airdrop hay for starving livestock, and move snow to allow families to leave their farms and ranches.
The operation provided much-needed relief for the area, but it couldn't mitigate all of the horrible damage done by the relentless storms.
More than 150,000 head of cattle and sheep died, along with 76 people. Several rescue workers died of exposure or suffered from snow blindness or frostbite.
Additional storms in March and April continued to complicate relief and rescue efforts.
Some areas got more than 100 inches of snow over the course of the winter, and in places the drifts reached an incredible 30 feet. These massive piles of snow would take until July to melt completely.
The video below features real stories from people who lived through the storms.
What an incredible story, and what an unforgettable winter. Did you live through it, or have you heard stories from your family? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments!
For another amazing blizzard story, check out the
Great Blizzard of 1888.