The Other Winter:

  Most in the Pacific Northwest and California won’t soon forget the winter of 2016-2017. Day after day, snow followed by freezing rain, followed by more snow caused no end of concern and hardship for city, county, and state citizens. Along with the nearly unbelievable amounts of rain and snow, seemingly imminent castastrophies sent shock waves of fear and worry across the nation, as many wondered if the nations tallest dam in Oroville, California would collapse. It didn’t, and thank God, the devastation would have been catastrophic beyond words.  But was this winter the worst the west had ever seen? As spring approached Avalanches and water runoff closed roads, flooded agricultural areas, and damaged numerous homes.  It certainly seemed to those who went through it that 2016-2017 was indeed the worst winter in modern history. But it wasn’t. The Winter of 1948-1949 was worse. Much worse.      Excerpts from Without Compromise, 75 Years of Service Idaho State Police by Kelly Kast, Ridenbaugh Press 2013: “The forces of nature declared war on Idaho and the Pacific Northwest. For nearly four months, Idaho was slammed with record setting snow storms, wind storms, and temperatures that day-after-day dropped below minus twenty-five degrees.” By the end of January, beginning of February 1949, Idaho Governor C.A Robins received so many desperate telegrams from county commissioners across Idaho, he sent emergency telegrams to Washington D.C.  Robins reminded the nation’s leaders Idaho farming and livestock raising operations were a critical part of the nation’s security. Within hours, Robins received a reply from U.S. Senator Glen Taylor. “President Truman has instructed the Federal Works Agency and the Bureau of Land Management to give full aid, even beyond the funds appropriated if necessary, to assist Idaho and other stricken areas of the west.” The aid package was a whopping $1.3 million.  The money was appreciated, but without nature’s cooperation it wouldn’t be enough to help the vast majority. Nature didn’t cooperate. Idaho State Police Trooper C.L. Roberts remembered the winter in vivid detail. For nearly four months he worked anywhere from 12 to 14 hours a day trying to help his fellow citizens.  “Every city was cut off from its neighboring cities. They were barricaded because the wind had drifted the snow so high across the roads, equipment simply didn’t exist to move it out of the way. In many areas, the snow was so high people were walking over the top of telephone poles.” On the worst day of that winter, over 27 inches of snow fell in a 24-hour period. The snowfall might have been manageable but coupled with sustained winds of 25-30 miles an hour, it was a disaster. For over six weeks, Southern Idaho was effectively shut down. Thousands of animals froze or starved to death, thousands of acres of farmland and numerous towns, were under snow, ice, and water for days. Amazingly, less than a dozen people died in the Great Winter as it came to be known. Trooper C.B. Roberts recalled the saddest of those deaths, in his opinion, was a young man caught in the ferocious storm. “I got a call about a missing motorist up by Dubois. It was a young man on his way to see family in Idaho Falls. We looked and looked for him, one day, two days, three days, finally the search was called off because the weather was turning bad again. When spring came, we discovered him when a motorist called in a car that had driven off the road a little way and been covered in a snow drift. Even though it was well into spring when we found him, he was still frozen solid.”  By the end of March, Idaho was finally in the first stages of recovery. Grover Jensen of Bonneville County sent a letter to Governor Robbins: “Over nine hundred miles of our farm and market roads were completely blocked and impassable most of this awful winter, but we are well ahead of schedule in digging ourselves out. The emergency funding of $375,000 you allotted for us has saved millions of dollars in loss, especially to our potato industry.”   I am happy to report the winter of 2016-2017 was not any where near as bad as the Great Winter. Best of all, our potatoes did just fine.

 

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