Today, society has different ways of forecasting approaching rain and snow storms which can help prepare for the worst a storm may bring. Despite this, advanced blizzard warnings still cannot help stop 100% of damage and deaths that a storm like this could bring. Keeping this in mind, the situations must have been more chaotic centuries before technology was ever built.
One such example occurred over a century ago on January 12th, 1888. This was the day that the storm dubbed the “Schoolchildren’s Blizzard” causes the deaths of 235 individuals; many of those who died were children leaving school and on their way home across the Northwest Plains region in the United States. There was no warning of the approaching storm while some accounts have said that in nearly 24 hours, temperatures fell nearly 100 degrees.
The day hardly started off as if a storm was coming as it was the afternoon on a Thursday and the day before had a forecast of warm weather from Montana east to the Dakotas and south to Texas. Everything was fine until suddenly, Arctic air coming out of Canada quickly pushed a system south within a matter of hours. The system was a tremendous shock as temperatures that once were unseasonably warm plunged all the way downward to forty below zero within much of North Dakota. The situation grew worse as in addition to the cool air, the storm system caused heavy amounts of snow and extremely high winds; the deadly combination created conditions that were blinding to individuals and motorists.
Those that were mostly victims of the deadly blizzard were adults who had been working on large farms and children who were simply making their way homeward from school that lived in areas that were rural; because of the dreadful conditions, both ran into extreme difficulties in reaching their destinations. However, some places were fortunate that caution prevailed such as in Pawnee, Nebraska; school teacher Seymour Dopp had the foresight that instead of allowing his students to go home on their own, he kept his total of 17 students at the school when the storm started at 2 p.m. Even though the conditions forced them to stay overnight at the school and had to burn stockpiled wood in order to keep warm, this proved to be the right decision despite parents who must have been worried sick about their children’s well-beings; parents had to wait the next day and make their way over snow-drifts as high as five feet before being able to save their children.
In the Great Plains, South Dakota area, two men saved the students in a schoolhouse by attaching a rope from the school to the closest shelter to lead them to safety. Minnie Freeman, a Nebraska teacher, led her students successfully to shelter as her one-room schoolhouse roof was torn off by the storm. Unfortunately, other cases had people who were less lucky. Teacher Loie Royce attempted to direct three children to her home for safety that was less than 90 yards from the school in Plainfield, Nebraska; they got lost with Royce ending up losing her feet to frostbite while hypothermia claimed the lives of the three children. Totally, roughly 235 individuals died across the plains on January 12th. The storm in that area is still considered the worst blizzard in their history.