History Nebraska Blog

Will Winter Never End?

Digging out a snowplow near Chadron.

How bad does it have to be before a locomotive snowplow gets stuck? A crew near Chadron on the Chicago and North Western line resorted to hand shovels to dig out a snowplow during the winter of 1948-49. NSHS RG3139-27 (left).

Maybe it will warm up by the time you read this. Or maybe there will be a foot of new snow. But if you think this winter has been rough, ask someone who remembers the winter of 1948-49. A series of storms between November and February paralyzed the northern Plains, including the northern third of Nebraska. It got so bad that the Air Force tried dropping hay bales from cargo planes to feed starving cattle.

You can read all about it in Harl Dahlstrom’s award-winning article, “I’m Never Going to be Snowbound Again, the Winter of 1948-1949,” which filled a special issue of Nebraska History in Fall/Winter 2002.

The link above is to a PDF of the entire article, one of many that we’re making available on our website (see the current list here.) But if you’d rather read it on paper, our Landmark Stores also have the blizzard issue and many other past issues in stock.

To make you feel warm by way of comparison, we’ll leave you with this excerpt:

In the course of the exceptionally long storm, farmers and ranchers tended their livestock as best they could, but exposure to the elements might bring more than the discomfort of the moment. At his family’s ranch near the western border of Cherry County, Cal Westover spent much of the first day of the storm taking care of livestock. When he returned to the house around 2:00 P.M. his wife, Irene, who, with their ten-year-old son, Joe, had helped him for a time with the outside work, noticed “his face was bleeding where it had frozen then the ice had pulled away, taking hide and all. He . . . warmed up a little and drank a cup of hot cocoa then went back out to finish taking care of the stock.”

Nearly three weeks later, Westover’s face was still too painful to shave.

There. Now don’t you feel better? Spring is coming.

–David Bristow, associate director for research & publications

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