1888: The Children’s Blizzard

This month marks the anniversary of one of the most horrific events in Midwest history, though after 125 years quite a few people don’t remember it at all: the Children’s Blizzard of 1888, which received its name because so many of its 250-500 fatalities were children.

Many factors combined to cause that death toll, which was horrific even in a time without cellphones and modern weather warnings.

  • The winter had been particularly bad, and a sudden reprieve of warmer weather encouraged people to get outside and enjoy it.
  • The Army Signal Corps did not issue a warning for a Cold Wave.
  • The storm hit in the afternoon, when some kids were on their way home from school. Walking.
  • The Little Ice Age was coming to an end at this time, but the cold trend may have been a factor. Also, Krakatoa had erupted in 1883, leading to a definite cold snap that lasted a few years. Did either of these things influence the Children’s Blizzard? I’m not sure, honestly.

It was horrible. Children and adults died less than 100 steps from safety because visibility was so bad they couldn’t see it. A 10-year-old from Avoca died trying to find his house, for example.

More information can be found here, or here, or if you prefer, on Wikipedia.

Please remember this story the next time you are tempted to complain that the National Weather Service exaggerates its storm predictions.