Brrrr it’s cold outside but somehow it doesn’t seem quite that bad as I sit at my computer next to my heater. As I look through our archives and read about winters in early Geary County I’m so happy I live in this day and age.
In December of 1885 “an unbroken blanket of snow extended from Williams, NM to Kansas City” covering the state and giving settlers a small taste of what was yet to come. The blizzard of 1886 hit in January and caught settlers completely unaware. Drifts of 6 feet were common across the state.
The Annuals of Kansas starts Kansas history describing the blizzard of 1886. 25 degrees below zero was recorded at Fort Riley. Many settlers did not have permanent dwellings and it is estimated that 100 Kansans perished due to the cold. Frozen carcasses of rabbits, prairie chickens, quail, and antelope were reported across the state. It is estimated that 80 percent of the cattle in Kansas froze to death. Many major cattle companies across the state were ruined because there was no insurance to cover their losses.
The Republican of January 8, reports that “trains on all the roads here were abandoned” because they could not get through the drifts. The Kansas State Historical Society reports that a “force of eleven Union Pacific locomotives was unable to "buck" through and cut in the snow near Salina. The telegraph wires went down on Thursday morning essentially cutting Junction City off from the outside world.
On April 5, 1920 the Union Newspaper reports that Junction City was completely isolated from the outside world after a two day blizzard. It is estimated that two feet of snow fell accompanied by thunder and lightning. Rural mail carriers reported that the wind had swept the fields clean leaving ten foot drifts to cover the roadways. Travel on all railroads was stopped for at least 24 hours because of the drifts. Men worked quickly around town to get the snow off roofs to keep them from collapsing. Peach and plum trees were blooming at this time of year but after the freezing weather not much crop is expected.
A funny side note to illustrate how high the drifts were, “Carl Stevenson walked out onto a drift back of his home and suddenly slipped into a rainwater barrel.” It seems the county roads were the worst “Dr. King got stuck with his big car… in a place in the canon road north of the city, and came into town afoot, sending Dan Baker out Monday with explicit directions as to where the car would be found… [Dan] located the spot but no car could be seen. Certain that no one could have taken the car…he started prodding about on the level snow and found the car two feet under snow level.”
Tuesday after the storm the fire department “did valiant service… after the snow got good and slushy, by getting out in the business section with the fire hose and washing off the brick paving.”
February 18, 1926 the Republican tells us that a near blizzard swept through Kansas in the early hours. Falling rain turned to sleet and then snow as 45mph winds blew it across the plains and deposited it in low spots making huge barriers across roads. The county’s “big snow plow was ordered onto the Victory Highway... snow had drifted” covering the road. “Orders went out to all patrolmen to clear their roads as soon as the snow stopped or if there was no let-up, to get out and clear them anyway.” This seems to have been a hopeless job because the museum has several photos of the snow plows stuck while trying to clear the snow.
On January 4, 1947 the Union newspaper reports that the temperature reached twenty-six degrees below zero that morning. “This almost-unbelievably cold temperature was reached about 7 a.m. after a steady drop throughout the night,” according to L.W. Sargent, local weather observer. The cold was alleviated some by the absence of wind. Also, reported is that the local taxi service, tow trucks and plumbers did a booming business that day.
In December of 1973 an ice storm knocked out power in Junction City and the surrounding area. The Union newspaper has an unofficial report of an estimated $500,000 in tree damage. KJCK was off the air and the FM tower was flattened.
February 1, 1983 the Union reports an 8 inch snow that made roadways in much of Kansas dangerous to travel on. This was accompanied by 30mph gusts of wind. Junction City Manager, John Higgins, declared a snow emergency after getting stuck in his driveway only getting his car out half a car length before deciding to walk to work. Junction City reported 8 inches of snow and was expecting another 2-5 inches by the end of the day.
In more recent times, Geary County and the surrounding area was paralyzed when a major ice storm, with an accompanying 6 inches of snow hit in December of 2007. I am sure that many of us remember the storm. The Union reported on December 13, 2007 that many were left without power for several days, some up to 10 days and some in rural areas longer. Utility crews came from as far away as North Carolina to assist with restoring the power.