From beginning to end, the year 1913 was a meteorologically-challenging year. Earlier this year, “Wild Weather Wednesday” articles covered two 1913 historic weather events: The Great Flood of 1913 (Part One and Part Two) and The White Hurricane. On July 10, 1913 the highest temperature ever recorded in the United States occurred in Death Valley – 134 degrees.
That year would end with an historic blizzard which buried the eastern slope of Colorado in early December. As the Daily Journal of San Miguel County reported on December 1, snow was “general throughout Colorado”, but the eastern slope would take the brunt of the storm. Days later the Steamboat Pilot reported their part of the state had entirely escaped the storm.
On December 4 a low-pressure system moved over Colorado, at first bringing heavy rain to the eastern plains and heavy snow in the mountains. As the temperatures dropped and the winds picked up, snow began to fall and by the following day a record 45.7 inches of snow had fallen in Denver. West of Denver, Georgetown recorded a whopping 86 inches had fallen, sixty-three of those on December 4.
Believe it or not, those type of heavy snowstorms were (and still are) rare in December and seen more often in the snowiest months of the year — March, November and April. Needless to say, the storm paralyzed the eastern slope. Train and trolley tracks across the state were buried, bringing a screeching halt to travel and commerce.
Newspapers across the country began reporting the blizzard on December 5. Throughout the state several persons were reported as missing. One paper reported that the drifts in Cripple Creek were measured at fifteen feet. In Denver the downtown hotels were full, as well as other public buildings which became places of refuge for those stranded by the storm.
On December 6, the Washington Herald reported sixteen miners and eight members of a rescue party missing around Canon City where it was believed eight feet of snow had piled up. Between Boulder and Buena Vista two stage coaches were missing and the drivers and passengers presumed to have frozen to death. In Trinidad, martial law was in effect as miners and soldiers struggled to survive in their tents.
All over the state, buildings were collapsing from the snow’s weight. The Foster Building flooded from burst pipes, and with commerce and transportation suspended, a coal famine was feared as trains from southern Colorado mines couldn’t deliver. Dairy companies would deliver milk and cream, but only for infants.
As desperate as the situation was, the citizenry rose to the occasion. As the Telluride Journal reported on December 11:
Thousands of people today responded to the call issued by Mayor Perkins for help in clearing the streets and sidewalks of snow so that traffic could be resumed, and volunteered to shovel snow in the suburbs to clear the streets to traffic. In this good work everybody seems to enter in good spirit and with a vim, the millionaires of the city mingling with the laborers and cleared the streets for blocks and blocks.
Vacant lots became repositories for tons of snow. The site of the present day Civic Center was said to have a mountain of snow so high that it lasted until summer. It would take a while for cities and towns along the front range of Colorado to return to some semblance of normalcy.
Farmers, however, were ecstatic. The following year they expected to harvest bumper crops from the abundant water which the massive snow melt would provide. As the Fort Collins Weekly Courier reported on December 5:
The benefits to the farmer have an immense value to them. The good weather kept up long enough to allow the plowing of thousands of acres of land and a large area of wheat is in the ground. . . the dry-land farmer especially cannot help but reap a benefit.
Sheep herders and cattlemen were not as thrilled, however. It would be extremely difficult to keep their herds fed and prevent them from perishing.
With hundreds of hands-on volunteer workers, the situation improved by the weekend. On Sunday thousands of people left their homes just to get outside and walk through areas cleared of snow. “They acted like prisoners just released from confinement.” It would take several days, though, before coal deliveries could be made – coal mining had been suspended as well.
As crews were able to clear the snow, bodies began to be recovered. By December 9, forty bodies had been found; however, it would be several days before their funerals and burials could be conducted. Bodies remained un-embalmed since undertakers were unable to reach them.
As paralyzed as the city was, apparently some mail went out. On December 12, the Santa Cruz Evening News in California reported that a letter had been delivered to a merchant. The letter was sent apparently to explain an order delay and contained details of the situation in Colorado. W.E. Impey explained to Santa Cruz merchant M. Abrams that eight feet of snow “on the level” had fallen. It had taken Impey two days to shovel around his own home and transportation was still at a standstill. He didn’t say when Abrams’ order of overalls would be delivered, however.
Two weeks following the massive storm, another storm was threatening to dump massive amounts of snow (or so they feared). A mere one-and-a-half inches of additional snow sent residents into a panic:
The record 1913 snowfall in Denver still stands as the heaviest. Ninety years later a blizzard in mid-March dumped almost thirty-two inches. In the early days of November 1946, thirty inches was recorded. The fourth heaviest snow storm recorded in Denver occurred on December 24, 1982 – and I remember it well.
The weather forecast was calling for a snow storm and my family was on their way to visit me in Aurora. They arrived on the evening of December 23 – the sunset over the mountains was gorgeous and not a single cloud in the sky. I had decided to wait until they arrived to purchase groceries. As it turned out, that was a mistake.
By the time we arose on December 24, there was already ten inches of snow piled up on the back steps. We dressed warmly and made it a few blocks to the grocery store and back safely, but it continued to snow (and blow). On the morning of December 25, there was a four-foot snow drift in front of my house – we were snow-bound.
The city was paralyzed and it was at least two or three days (or more) before a snow plow made it to my street (at night). The storm turned out to be a political nightmare for Denver Mayor Bill McNichols. Many residents were stranded, snow removal operations were overwhelmed and McNichols had ordered trash trucks to drive down streets to compact the snow. That action actually made the situation worse and unhappy voters voted him out of office in May of 1983.
1913 Storm Footnote
While the blizzard was burying Colorado, Texas experienced record rains and flooding. By December 7, the Washington Herald reported seventy-two bodies had been recovered, many found floating in streams. Temperatures had dropped and produced hail, sleet and a bit of snow in some places. The weather system stretched as far as Galveston. People stranded for up to two days were being rescued from rooftops. With the cold temperatures, hunger and exposure, an epidemic of pneumonia was feared.
Record-breaking rainfall was recorded across the state: Waco (7.30); Hewitt (14.95); Temple (9.62); Brenham (20.08); Sugarland (12.30); Columbia (9.17) and Brazoria (8.68). Flooding had occurred in some of these locations earlier that year, but the December storm set the record that year with approximately 177 deaths and property damage exceeding $8.5 million.
The monetary impact of these 1913 historic storms approached the half-billion dollar mark. The Great Flood of 1913 alone was estimated to have caused one-third of a billion dollars in damages.
Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!