Remembering the ‘Children’s Blizzard’

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Friday marked the 130th anniversary of the Children’s Blizzard, also known as the Schoolhouse Blizzard.

The 1888 storm was one of the deadliest in the history of the Dakota Territory and Upper Midwest, and occurred in a year of severe winter weather across the country.

Many people in the eastern Dakota Territory and Minnesota were caught off-guard by the storm, as the day started off comfortably mild. They proceeded with their daily errands and sent their children to school. Weather conditions deteriorated rapidly, turning deadly by midday as people rushed to return home, with some getting lost in the whiteout conditions and succumbing to hypothermia.

The eastern portions of the Dakota Territory and Nebraska, as well as Minnesota and Iowa were the hardest hit. More than 230 perished in the blizzard - many of them children.

The Black Hills region fared far better, though, because the storm arrived early enough in the day that most people decided to stay home for the duration of the storm.

No fatalities were reported in the region.

Officially, 1.5 inches of snow was recorded in downtown Rapid City. However, due to the gusty winds and blowing snow, those measurements are likely a few inches lower than the actual snowfall. Deadwood reported one foot of snow.

Blowing and drifting snow caused a nuisance for transportation and telecommunications in the Black Hills, with the only train line in and out of the region covered by deep snow drifts between Chadron, Neb. and Rapid City. Mail service was suspended for one week until the trains could operate again. Telegraph lines were also downed, resulting in no communications with the rest of the country for over one week.

Behind the storm, record-breaking cold funneled into the Dakota Territory and upper Midwest, with temperatures falling to between 20 and 30 degrees below zero.

While it is a near certainty that another storm like the Children’s Blizzard will strike again, it is unlikely to cause as many casualties as 130 years ago.

“The big thing is that we’re able to predict those storms now,” said Susan Sanders, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Rapid City office. “That really helps a lot to let people know to stay in a safe place and not venture out into those kinds of conditions anymore.”

Many of the temperature records set during the blizzard still stand today.

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