An Unexpected Cold Snap in 1888 Left Hundreds Frozen Where They Stood

Unpredictable weather patterns can be deadly, and 1888 was an especially bad year for blizzards in America.

On January 12 of that year, the Northwest Plains area of the country had just experienced unseasonably warm weather. School children and farm workers set out that morning with no idea of what might happen next.

According to historical accounts, temperatures plummeted by 100 degrees within a matter of hours. Temperatures were around 40 degrees that morning; by the afternoon, temperatures plummeted to 40 below zero in some locations.

This shocking change in temperature was caused by the collision of an Arctic cold front with warm gulf air, leading to heavy winds, massive snowfall and swift freezing across the midwest.

The event is known variously as the “Children’s Blizzard,” “Schoolhouse Blizzard” or “Schoolchildren’s Blizzard” because of the high numberso of children caught in the storm walking home from school that day. Of the 235 people who died in the storm 213 were children.

Amazingly, this was not the only brutal blizzard the country experienced that year. Just a few months later, New York was hit hard by the “Great White Hurricane” in mid March. Hundreds of horse-drawn carriages were trapped in traffic gridlock, leading to 400 deaths in the area, half of them in New York City itself.

Despite the terrible loss of life, some good did come from these blizzards, though. New York’s subway system was designed in part as a response to the traffic gridlock conditions; over the next few decades, it would be built and improved into what would become one of the best public transportation systems in the world.