Anyone living in the Quad City region is probably happy that the week of January 11 – 17, 2009 is now over. With temperatures in the minus 20’s (Fahrenheit) at night (and during the morning commute) and the highs barely breaking into plus temperatures, if at all, many of us probably wondered, “How could this get any worse?”
All we need to do is look back to January 1979 to remind ourselves it could have been much, much worse. Welcome to the thirtieth anniversary of the great Blizzard of 1979!
January of 1979 still holds the record in the Quad Cities for being not only the coldest, but snowiest January on record. With an average temperature for the month of 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit and 26.7 inches of snow that arrived in a sudden blizzard, it was certainly one for not only the record books, but people’s memories as well.*
Davenporters thought they received a big snow between December 30, 1978 and January 1, 1979 when 11 inches of the stuff fell on the region. Temperatures averaged around 10 degrees during the day and dropped to around minus 5 to 10 degrees at night. Davenport city crews and private individuals worked diligently over the following days on snow removal. Possibly the only ones not to mind the snowy chaos were Davenport school children, who received an extra vacation day as schools in the area extended winter break due to snow and extreme cold.
Slowly the snow was cleared, but temperatures remained low. By January 12th, the mercury had not reached above 20 degrees since December 30th. The Quad-City Times Morning Edition reported another 2 to 4 inches of snow would be expected over the next day to add to the 1.3 inches that had fallen the day before. No big deal even to weary Davenporters sick of the sight of winter.
But the end result would be a little more than expected.
The snow started falling late January 12th and did not stop until January 14th, leaving behind 26.7 inches of snow from the storm. Adding to the misery were extremely cold temperatures and a wind that reached up to 50 miles per hour. Davenport, and the Quad City region, nearly stopped in its tracks. All major interstates and roads closed as motorists were forced to abandon their vehicles and either walk or get a lift from snowmobilers or those with 4-wheel drive vehicles. If unable to get home, travelers stayed in community shelters, truck stops, hotels, or private homes to wait out the storm. Local individuals let police departments and hospitals borrow snowmobiles to help patrol the streets and get employees to work. Some employees just never left their jobs. By Sunday, January 14th, the Quad-City region was declared a disaster area by both the Iowa and Illinois governors.
Starting early Monday, January 15th, the cleanup began. Schools and downtown Davenport closed to allow snow crews the chance to begin clean up. In downtown Davenport the snow was plowed into the middle of the roads to be removed at a later date. Some of our library staff still remember having to climb over mounds of snow to reach the library from the parking lot! Even with city crews working 24 hours a day, the snow was still causing problems at the end of January. ** It would take weeks for the city and private individuals to gain the upper hand against the massive amount of snow. Spring must have seemed a long way away at that time.
The interesting thing about history is that it isn’t just events that happened one hundred years ago. History is constantly being created. Thirty years has passed since the blizzard of 1979. Do you remember it? If not, ask around. I’m sure you will find someone who will share their memories of what they were doing when the Blizzard of ’79 struck.
(posted by Amy D.)
*Statistics from the National Weather Service.
**Quad-City Times, January 31, 1979, Front Page.