Local Weather History: The Great Blizzard of 1873

It paralyzed the region & left it completely snowbound for days.

Posted: Jan 29, 2020 4:24 PM
Updated: Feb 18, 2020 9:22 PM

The great blizzard of 1873 struck the area January 23-24, paralyzing the area & ranking up there with one of the great snowstorms in weather history for our area.

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This, after a severe, historic blizzard in the Plains January 7.  Mild weather reportedly preceded it & we were mild ahead of that particular storm.

This blizzard west of our area was the prelude to our own historic storm...................

With that first one, many pioneers perished as they were unprepared for a storm of such magnitude.  Many became completely disoriented on the prairie in the white-out & collapsed, then became buried.  Cattle were completely suffocated by the deep drifts. These drifts stopped & buried trains for more than a week.  At least 70 reportedly died with multiple bodies not found until the snow melted away in the spring.  Visibility Nebraska to Minnesota, northwestern Iowa, and southeastern South Dakota was reportedly down to three feet at the height of the storm.  One dangerous aspect reported was that the winds were so strong that homes lost roofs, causing some to be exposed to the elements & even succumb.

Interestly, a historic, unseasonable Easter blizzard in the Plains followed April 13-17, 1873 with Nebraska being hit especially hard.

The January Plains blizzard depicted in Harper's Weekly in winter 1873: 

Credit to Iowa Historical Society pic from after the storm in northeastern Iowa:

Credit to K. Linzmeier & Historical Marker Database:

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Just a bit more than two weeks after this January blizzard, another historic storm began to take shape with eyes on our area.

It was one of the heaviest snowstorms on record hit the Lafayette/West Lafayette area.  It was said to be the worst blizzard since the New Year’s Blizzard of 1864. Comparable with a similar storm nearly 100 years later, it shut down the city & brought all train traffic to a complete halt. A train was completely snowed-in at Templeton, in Benton County by incredibly deep drifts. A train of four locomotives blew a cylinder trying to get through snow drifts in the city. Two engines were used to try to clear snow on the tracks over several blocks, but that was given up after futile efforts 2-5 p.m.

15.0” was measured in Lafayette after 3.0” measured prior to the storm. Wind blew the 15.0” into drifts of up to 4’ deep in the city with much deeper drifts outside the city in the open countryside. In rural areas, it was reported that the very strong winds nearly completely buried structures with such a magnitude not seen until the 1918 & 1978 blizzards.

After the blizzard January 27, 1873, Huntertown, Indiana (near Fort Wayne) dropped to a record -34.  The state record is -36 set in January 1994.  Downtown Indianapolis atop a several-story building, the low dropped to -13.   

Snowfall totals of 12-20" were reported in our area with as much as 4" on the ground prior to the storm.

A massive area saw +12" from Missouri to Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana to Michigan & Ohio.

20.0" Alamo

18.0" Kokomo

17.0"  Romney

15.0" Lafayette

15.0" Logansport

12.0" Rensselaer

Local press reports of the storm:

In Harper's Weekly image regarding the storm.....which left a big impression over such a large area.

"Inside Runner" track with deepening surface low tracking from southeastern Texas to northwestern Ohio.

Note the very tight isobars & the storm peak on January 23 at 4:35 p.m.

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