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The Schoolhouse Blizzard, also known as the Schoolchildren's Blizzard or the Children's Blizzard, hit the U.S.marker plains statesmarker on January 12, 1888. The blizzard came unexpectedly on a relatively warm day, and many people were caught unaware, including children in one-room schoolhouses.

The blizzard of 1888

The blizzard was preceded by a snowstorm on January 5 and 6, which dropped powdery snow on the northern and central plains, and brought an outbreak of brutally cold temperatures from January 7 to 11. On January 11, a strengthening surface low dropped south-southeastward out of Alberta, Canada into central Montanamarker and then into northeastern Coloradomarker by the morning of January 12. The temperatures in advance of the low increased some 20-40 degrees in the central plains (for example, Omaha, Nebraskamarker recorded a temperature of –6F at 7 a.m. on January 11, while the temperature had increased to 28F by 7 a.m. on January 12). The strong surface low rapidly moved into southeastern Nebraska by 3 p.m. on January 12 and finally into southwestern Wisconsinmarker by 11 p.m. that same day.

The blizzard was precipitated by the collision of an immense Arctic cold front with warm, moisture-laden air from the Gulf of Mexicomarker. Within a few hours, the advancing cold front caused a temperature drop from a few degrees above freezing to –20 degrees Fahrenheit (–40 in some places). This wave of cold was accompanied by high winds and heavy snow. The fast-moving storm first struck Montana in the early hours of January 12, swept through Dakota Territory from midmorning to early afternoon, and reached Lincoln, Nebraskamarker at 3 p.m.

What made the storm so deadly was the timing (during work and school hours), the suddenness, and the brief spell of balmy weather that preceded it. In addition, the very strong wind fields behind the cold front and the powdery nature of the snow reduced visibilities on the open plains to zero. People ventured from the safety of their homes to do chores, go to town, attend school, or simply enjoy the relative warmth of the day. As a result, thousands of people – including a significant number of schoolchildren – got caught in the blizzard. Approximately 500 people died of hypothermia. Travel was severely impeded in the days following.

Two months later, another severe blizzard hit the East Coast states: This blizzard was known as the Great Blizzard of 1888.

The stories

  • Plainview, Nebraskamarker: Lois Royce found herself trapped with three of her students in her schoolhouse. By 3pm, they had run out of heating fuel. Her boarding house was only away, so she attempted to lead the children there. However, visibility was so poor that they became lost and all the children froze to death. The teacher survived, but her feet were frostbitten and had to be amputated.
  • Holt County, Nebraskamarker: Etta Shattuck got lost on her way home, and sought shelter in a haystack. She remained trapped there until her rescue three days later. She soon died due to complications from surgery to remove her frostbitten limbs.
  • In Great Plains, South Dakota, the children were rescued. Two men tied a rope to the closest house, and headed for the school. There, they tied off the other end of the rope, and led the children to safety.
  • Mira Valley, Nebraska: Minnie Freeman safely led thirteen children from her schoolhouse to her home, one half mile (.8 km) away. The rumor she used a rope to keep the children together during the blinding storm is widely circulated, but one of the children claims that is not true. She took them to the boarding house she lived at about a mile away and all of her pupils survived. Many children in similar conditions around the Great Plainsmarker were not so lucky, as 235 people were killed, most of them children who couldn't get home from school. That year, "Song of the Great Blizzard: Thirteen Were Saved" or "Nebraska's Fearless Maid", was written and recorded in her honor by W.M. Vincent and published by Lyon & Healy.
  • Ted Kooser, Nebraska poet, has recorded many of the stories of the Schoolhouse Blizzard in his book of poetry, "The Blizzard Voices".
  • In 1967 a haunting mosaic mural by Jeanne Reynal was created for the west wall of the north bay in the Nebraska State Capitolmarker building in Lincoln, Nebraskamarker. It captures much of the mood and drama of the storm. The mural, executed in a semi-abstract style, portrays an incident that occurred in which a school teacher, Minnie Freeman, is supposed to have tied her children together with a clothes line and led them through the terrifying tempest to safety.

Affected states and territories

Many of these states were just United States territories at the time:

Other names

  • The Schoolhouse Blizzard
  • The Schoolchildren's Blizzard
  • The Big Brash Blizzard of 1888

Not to be confused with the Blizzard of 1888, which affected the East Coast later that year.

See also



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