The blizzard of 1913 buried the state

This article first appeared in the Broomfield Enterprise.

Though it happened nearly a century ago, the Great Blizzard of 1913 lives on in local history books as the worst ever in Colorado. It began pleasantly enough, dropping an inch or two over the first couple of days in December.  By Wednesday, about eight inches lay on the ground. Children struggled to make it to school, many businesses began to close. On Thursday, life along the Front Range came to a screeching halt.

The wind rose that day, and with it came the Mother of all Snow Storms. It raged throughout Thursday and Friday and by the time it moved off into Kansas on Saturday, the entire Front Range, from Trinidad to Cheyenne, was smothered in a wet, heavy mantle of snow. Denver was buried under three to four feet – Boulder got half a foot more than that. The worst hit was Georgetown, with a reported seven feet, two inches. What made things worse were the wind-sculpted snow drifts, some as high as 20 feet.

(Here are some really great shots of 1913 Denver buried in snow.)

All transportation stopped. Thousands of people found themselves stranded. They sought shelter in the homes of strangers or in public buildings. Houses and other buildings that hadn’t been well built collapsed under the weight of the snow. Folks were dependent on coal for heat in those days, and many homes ran out, with no way to get more for days. The St. Clara Orphanage in Denver faced just such a situation. The Denver Post sent wagonloads of coal to help, but the horses became stranded in snow drifts. The story goes that the drivers waded through snow to a nearby circus and drafted the help of the elephants, who came and freed the wagons — and the children were saved.

Here in the Broomfield area, farmers had no way to feed their livestock. Diary entries written by members of the Church family said children were stranded at the station in Westminster and had to be taken in by local residents. Farmers and ranchers spent days afterward hunting down horses and cattle, some of whom had dug themselves out of drifts and somehow made their way to the nearest haystack. Sadly, other stock didn’t fare so well.

Many folks made the best of it, snowshoeing around town. The children took advantage of their time off from school, building tunnels and snowmen and throwing snowballs at one another. When the good old reliable Colorado sun came back out and the massive piles began to melt, the region faced a new problem – flooding everywhere.

The storm also had some longer term effects. The huge blast of moisture created bumper crops the following spring.  In the years and decades following, authorities enacted strict new codes so that future buildings could withstand a similar storm. Nowadays, we may lose some beautiful trees when the snows come too early, but only occasionally does a building collapse under the weight of a winter snow.

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