Thursday, February 27, 2014

Winter of 1917 - 1918

Many areas of our country have experienced severe weather this winter with some people comparing it to the winter of 1917-1918 - the year the Ohio River froze over. That long-ago winter began with heavy snow in early December 1917 and ended well into February 1918. How do you think the two winters compare?

The Hopkinsville Kentuckian reported on the 13th of December 1917 that 13 inches of snow had fallen a few days previously. By 12 December it was stated there were drifts from 6-9 feet deep. Whole neighborhoods were cut off and the situation was becoming serious. Country residents were running out of coal and medicine and city residents were running low on food provided by the country. Not long afterwards, the weather moderated but, on 29 December, it was reported that temperatures had again dropped to below zero.

The Evansville (Indiana) Courier stated on 2 January 1918 the Ohio River was frozen over at Henderson, the second time that had occurred that winter.  The lead article on the front page of the Courier reported that another blizzard had paralyzed the city. Snow was driven by a stout nor'wester. Temperatures fell to -7 degrees and even the assistant in the weather bureau had frozen ears. The total snowfall for the winter had reached 38.6 inches.

Things were no better in Crittenden County, where the Crittenden Record-Press reported 14 inches of snow on the ground and more was in the forecast. The temperature was at 25 degrees, but was to drop to 12 degrees that night. Wind velocity was 44-60 miles per hour.

One of the most poignant accounts for the area can be found in Livingston County, Kentucky Court Order Book W, page 167, 169-170 and 173:

Friday, 11 January 1918:  ... the weather at this time is severely bad that one of the worst Blizzards known to this country is now raging, snow being from 10 to 40 inches deep, and still snowing ...

Thursday, 24 January 1918:  ... there has been several weeks of extreme cold and bad winter weather prevailing in this section and that there has been and is yet snow everywhere to the depth of 20 inches, that all rivers are frozen over and no transportation on same, the question of fuel has become alarming and indeed distressing to the citizens of Smithland.  It also appearing that Livingston County High School is this day entirely out of fuel and unless same is provided with fuel, it will be necessary to close said school. The Court hereby takes the authority to furnish the Livingston County High School with twenty five bushels of coal from the coal belonging to the Livingston County court house for which the Livingston County board of education ... agrees to replace said amount of coal within thirty days from this date. The court is of the opinion that for the purpose of economy, that all fuel now belonging to the county that is on hand at this date shall be used sparingly ... so if there arises a case of real need or distress among the poor citizens of the county, that fuel may be had to supply the needs especially in times of distress. It is therefore ordered that all fires in  the various offices in and about the court house be discontinued during this emergency except the one in the county court clerks office until further orders.

Monday, 4 February 1918:  The weather is not as severe as in January and a fresh supply of coal is provided for the citizens of Smithland and now can resume use of fires in the court house offices. Twenty five bushels of coal has been provided to the Livingston County High School and made it possible for school to be kept open.

There have been other winters of unnatural cold and large amounts of snow, but the winter of 1917-1918 is one for the record books.

Published 27 February 2014, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog,


Unknown said...

I thoroughly checked the "Hopkinsville Kentuckian" (HK) for December 8, 1917, but there was no note about the weather. Perhaps you meant the HK for December 13, which has a full column (on p.1) about the weather of the previous week.

Brenda Joyce Jerome said...

Thank you for your comment/correction and thanks for reading my blog. It has been corrected.