Pioneer Potluck: About the 1949 Blizzard, Northern Colorado

  • By Grannie Annie
  • Tuesday, January 12, 2016 5:51pm
  • LifeFood

On a farm east of Fort Collins, Colorado

Jan 2, 1949


I was 12 years old when the blizzard hit our farm in January 1949. The day before it was a sunny and warm day. No clues in the sky whatsoever of the impending storm that lasted for weeks. The ending result lasted for years.

When it started the winds were as high as 80 miles per hour and swept through northern Colorado into Wyoming and other Great Plan States. In some places in certain areas the temperatures dropped to 50 below.

It took everyone by surprise, even the weathermen. In our corner of the world, the roads were closed with drifting snow and caught a lot of people coming home from a long celebration of the New Year. The highway between Cheyenne to Wellington to Fort Collins, was drifted shut. Many travelers who were stranded until they could be rescued by people who had the right type of equipment to move snow, be it a tractor, snow plow or a tow trucks. Several storm refugees ended up in Wellington, Colorado and some of the ranches along the way. The Highway Dept, Volunteer Fire Departments and others helped. Food was eventually trucked into Wellington for the stranded travelers.

Some people were not so lucky to have been rescued included a family, mom and dad and two children, who abandoned the car in a drift and began to walk . Sadly they found them frozen to death with 100 feet from each other.

Mary Becker Donnel, writes me that she will never forget this storm!

“My parents, brother and sister and I were celebrating grandfather’s birthday several miles from our family farm along with aunts, uncles and cousins when the wind started blowing very hard. Of course, it was snowing HARD as well. It was evening and my dad had sheep and cattle at our home so we started driving to get home, but did not get very far. Dad walked back to our grandfathers for a tractor to pull our car back to grandfathers.

That night lots of people slept on the floors. The next morning the blizzard was still raging but dad and brother decided to walk to our farm to care for the animals. My mom was so scared for them! The next day (3rd day) the storm ended and mom, sister and I walked home. Mom was so happy when she saw smoke coming out of our chimney-we knew they had gotten home! The storm left drifts as high as our house.

Buried in those drifts were many sheep. My sister and I had the job of walking on top of the drifts looking for holes in the snow. We would call for our dad or brother and they would dig down and rescued those sheep in their warm coats. I do not know how many livestock perished – we saved many!”

Thank you Mary!

At our farm, Dad was busy for days and weeks digging drift out for a trail to our neighbors and trails out into fields to find cattle, sheep and horses that they thought they could save. Not many survived, but those that did were crippled and most were blinded by the extreme cold. Dad lost many animals, as did our surrounding neighbors.

Trains stopped running for weeks until the rail lines could be re-opened. Most of the drifts were up to 15 feet high, causing the derailment of the plow trains.

All small towns had stranded people that provided shelter. Wellington, Colorado to the west of use and north-east of our farm, Greeley and Nunn took in people who were in various stages of health.

Rescue plans were put into place as the tragic toll of the massive storm was comprehended. Civil Air Patrol missions used Lowry Air Force Base in Denver as a terminal to fly food and hay to stranded farmers and ranchers. We stomped a great big X in the snow showing that we needed supplies. Some of the hay saved cattle in snow-covered barns that they took shelter in. We had cattle, a horse and our milk cow, Bessie packed in our big barn. They all survived, but sadly most of the cattle and sheep, antelope, deer, elk, and smaller wildlife in the fields bunched up against fences as the snow drifted over them, froze to death standing up. Scary seeing this as a 12 year old in the weeks following.

Our neighbors and people through-out Colorado, Wyoming and other states, shared their stories of survival and tragedy of this storm. Most of them talked about it for years and years.

We have come a long way in predicting impending weather storms. Dads prediction of looking at the black clouds coming up in the south, west or north, still come to my mind when I see big clouds looming up over Cook Inlet here in Alaska. Memories are worth a million words.

Thanks to all who helped with my memories!


The “Grannie Annie” Cook Book Series includes: “Grannie Annie’s Cookin’ on the Woodstove”; “Grannie Annie’s Cookin’ at the Homestead”; “Grannie Annie’s Cookin’ Fish from Cold Alaskan Waters”; and “Grannie Annie’s Eat Dessert First.” They are available at M & M Market in Nikiski.

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