Nebraska February 17, 2018
No Nebraskan Will Ever Forget The One Winter That Never Seemed To End
The winter of 2017-2018 has been pretty rough. It’s been one of the coldest on record, and some parts of the state have seen some heavy snowfall. But this is nothing compared to the winter of 1948-1949 – it was the winter that seemed to go on forever.
It all started on November 18, 1948.
Snow blanketed a wide swath of central to northeastern Nebraska. Up to 24 inches fell, shutting down roads and trains. Phone service went out, and many people were stranded away from home. Understandably, many Nebraskans figured that this would be the worst they'd see that winter.
But it was far from over.
The snow from the first storm hadn't yet melted when the next round of severe weather struck. Snowstorms on December 29th and January 2nd-5th completely buried the state in up to 30 additional inches and brought winds of up to 60 MPH. The wind created drifts that reached up to 50 feet high in some places.
The snow was completely devastating.
Driving or walking anywhere were out of the question. Workers tried to clear the roads, but snow would rush in and cover them again immediately. Trains weren't able to run, so the only viable mode of transportation was by air - a method that was obviously not an option for most people. Crews working to clear the snow encountered several layers of ice in between layers of snow, creating a kind of impenetrable barrier. They resorted to using dynamite to remove the snow and ice in some places.
All transportation routes were blocked for months.
The livelihood of almost every Nebraskan depended on the railroad. With the trains disabled, ranchers couldn't send their livestock off to market. Supplies couldn't be delivered to the beleaguered state, and communities began to ration the food they had available. Millions of head of livestock were in danger, so planes dropped hay when and where they could to help keep the animals alive.
Even the railroads' powerful snowplows couldn't clear the massive drifts, so citizens came out with shovels to help remove snow from the tracks. Some farmers were able to travel short distances with their machinery to retrieve supplies, but for the most part, everyone was simply stuck where they were.
In late January, the National Guard was called in to help.
Heavy machinery was brought in to clear roads, transport sick people to hospitals, and deliver supplies to humans and livestock alike. People in rural areas who had been trapped for weeks began to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
But Nebraska still wasn't ready to leave winter behind.
Further snowstorms in February, March and April of 1949 dropped even more snow. Livestock died by the tens of thousands - some of exposure, some of hunger, despite the aid efforts. Damages from the storms would echo throughout the rest of the year and beyond. The massive, dense snow drifts took until July to finally melt, leaving visual remnants of the brutal winter even after winter was officially over.
Nebraska did, of course, eventually recover. But the winter of 1948-49 is still remembered as the worst in the state.
Interested in more stories of intense winter storms in Nebraska? Read the unforgettable tale of
the blizzard of 1888 here.