The Murderous Blizzard of 1988 Module

Historically, the US has played home to some of the most extreme weather conditions. The central states of the country stretching from Texas to Canada played host to one of the worst weather conditions in the history of the country. The 12[th] of January 1988 experienced extreme weather conditions that resulted in very painful and sudden deaths of several people. The arid region, previously occupied by Indians, was occupied by settler farmers both from the east and west of the country who owned huge tracts of farming land. Encouraged by new mechanised farming techniques, farmers had settled in the area unaware of the erratic weather patterns of the region. Some farmers obtained the land free from the government while others bought it on the cheap. However, through the events of one event named the Murderous Blizzard of 1888, they learnt the cost of the land was very high. This event serves as an important learning lesson for immigrants, businesses and individuals in that it is important to understand the risks and challenges vis a vis the opportunities presented by a foreign land. This paper discusses this event as narrated by David Laskin in one of his books.
On this particular day, a Blizzard across the states exemplified how bad the weather in the region could be. An abnormally warm day in winter turned out to be one of the worst in the region`s history. The day had started out relatively warm but later experienced very low temperatures courtesy of a blizzard that covered the area in ice dust accompanied by shattered crystals. The blizzard moved across the grasslands shattering and destroying anything on its path. Within three minutes, the blizzard had caused temperatures to drop by 18 degrees. It hit Montana at dawn while in North Dakota it hit in the midmorning hours as farmers were in the field. In South Dakota it hit during morning recess while in Nebraska it hit in the afternoon as children were getting ready to leave school for their homes. In some country schools, children had already been released. The temperatures which had dropped 40 degrees below zero killed nearly everyone in the open and those unprotected. As a result, school children were the most affected which made the blizzard to be named `the school children`s blizzard` (Laskin 44).
The blizzard hit the plain states unexpectedly and in a week that had been relatively warm. The fair weather which witnesses reported melted snow in midwinter encouraged many individuals to venture outdoors. Some were restocking their supplies, others simply out enjoying the relative warmth while others had gone out visiting friends unaware of what was to come. For instance Laskin (45) indicates that in Nebraska, a nine-year-old boy had gone to walk his dog when the blizzard hit the area. Although his dog survived, the boy never did. This unexpected timing was one the greatest factors that led to the high death toll.
Another thing that led to the high death toll was poor understanding of the region`s climatic cycles. While the government had been privy to the subdivision and issuance of land to farmers willing to settled in the region through the Land Act (1862), the maps indicated that the land was Indian territory and in other areas as simply the great American Desert and relatively unoccupied (Laskin, 41). With such a history of being arid, the new settlers in the region had never anticipated such extreme cold temperatures. Furthermore, they had entrusted the land with their lives and investments but did not understand it. They did not understand the cycles of the seasons and thus they had not erected secure shelters for protection against the weather. The infrastructure was also relatively undeveloped meaning that children walking home from school were lost in grasslands when the blizzard struck.
The weatherman failed to predict and warn people about the oncoming blizzard. While the people lacked the familiarity with climactic cycles gained over many years of living in an area, they also did not have the scientific technology to correctly foresee and predict such extreme weather. When the weatherman needed to make public announcements and give out warnings, only telegraph lines were available for such use. However, they were ineffective as the railway lines were located a distance away from the farmland from the farms. Consequently, some farmers underestimated the blizzard and ventured outside in attempts to rescue their animals and other investments (Laskin, 42). Such attempts only increased casualties.
The sudden rush of cold air led to mist while ice dust also affected visibility. Visibility was reduced to zero-zero (Laskin, 44). This means that visibility horizontally, vertically and sideways was zero. Those caught in the open wandered aimlessly in search of shelter. Animals left out in the open grazing were frozen to death while the ice crystals also shattered their bodies. Majority of the people and animals died from hypothermia and others from complications of frostbite. Those who venture out of their shelters to rescue animals got lost and wandered into the open as a result of poor visibility. One newly married man left his pregnant wife in the house and went out in the middle of the blizzard to check on his livestock. He never made it back.
The Blizzard continued through the night. Some people lived through while others lost their lives. On the morning of 13[th], search teams moved across the land searching for survivors and collecting bodies. Among those survived the stories has sad stories to tell. One boy had laid down besides his father, Robert Chambers, overnight in a hollow place as the storm raged on. The place was not secure enough to shelter them from the blizzard. By morning, the Chambers was dead but the boy was rescued. Many such stories were common across the states. Many families were ready to quit the prairies and move back to wherever they had come from. One woman, Sadie Shaw wrote to her relative back in the east about the storm “Oh, it was terrible. I have often read about blizzards but they have to be seen to be fully realized” (Laskin 47)
After this event, many settlers in the region decided to move away. For those who remained, they acknowledged that living there meant being at the mercy of natural elements. The climate changed from one extreme of heavy snow and storms to failed rains and dust. All these had far reaching impact in their crops and livestock. The rate of immigrants into the area dropped drastically. The reality had dawned on the people. The prairies were not what they had envisioned. Surviving there required a new set of skills and being acclimatized to the extreme climate cycles.
This story serves as a warning to many people and businesses alike. It is important to study a place or destination before settling and investing in such places. For many businesses, they are attracted by the allure of a new market and venture in such markets without proper information regarding the markets and the risks involved. In some cases, the challenges and risks involved outweigh the opportunities. To survive in such foreign land, one must one understand the risks well and device ways to manage them well. The same applies for immigrants. They move to new countries attracted by the allure of a better life sometimes ending worse than they were in their homes.
Works cited
Laskin, David. “Death on the Prairies: The Murderous Blizzard of 1888” Portrait of America,
Oates, Stephen, and Charles J. Errico, (eds). 10th ed., vol. 2, Since 1865.

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