Living Memory History: The Blizzard of ’79

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!

At the publishing of this post, 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.

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10 Responses to Living Memory History: The Blizzard of ’79

  1. Adrian says:

    I work with a lot of QC oldtimers here at the Arsenal, and this last week they have all been talking about 1979 and the feet and feet of snow and the bitter cold. I (in my relative youth and non-local-ness) didn’t believe them, but I guess their memories are better than I was giving them credit for!!

  2. swesson says:

    Hey, all of us in Special Collections remember that blizzard just fine—it hit southern Ohio and Chicago as well as other places, too. And some of us were only half the height of the snowbanks and busy enjoying our days off elementary school at the time.

    Old-timers indeed! :^)

  3. Amy D. says:

    As my little felt hat kept blowing off my head today as I walked through downtown Davenport, it made me think of the lady’s hat in this week’s picture. Since most hats were kept on the head using hat pins stuck through the hair, usually near a bun, I can only imagine the pain of hair being pulled when the wind got hold of that one!

  4. I was a college freshman in Midway, KY when my mother who resided in Moline passed away in January 1979. I made the drive with my grandparents from Cave City, KY to Moline for her funeral, and remember it snowing so hard that I believe there was a flash of lightning as we drove to the cemetery. We could barely see and the wind buffeted us terribly on that hillside overlooking the Rock River valley and the area that is now Southpark Mall. We returned to my aunt’s house on Kennedy Drive in East Moline. When we awoke, the doors to the house were snowed shut so we shoved one of my cousins out a window so he could come around and dig the front door open. Highways were closed and I was stuck in Illinois for two weeks. I was overwhelmed when I returned to college, having to make up two weeks of missed schoolwork. My mom sure picked a fine time to die!

  5. Alexandra Hallmark says:

    I was 17 when that snow storm hit. We were living 30 miles north of the QC. The morning after the storm, my father woke my brother and I up and said we had to shovel out. What he really meant was to get the ladder out and shovel the roof of our house! As well as the deck.
    The snow drifted over the peak of the house and squared up on the back of roof line. The fun part was jumping off the roof into the snow pile below when we finished.

  6. Scott Forsberg says:

    I’ll never forget that winter, WOW! Snow was to the gutter line at my house. My parents still have pictures from this huge storm.

  7. John Sterling says:

    We were living on a farm near Lexington,KY during the blizzards of ’77 and ’79. The ground froze 2 feet down breaking water pipes from the well to the house both years. It took the state 8 days before they cleared Parsons Lane and we could get to town. Sold the farm in July and relocated to California. Never Again!!!

  8. Heidi says:

    I was a freshman at Bettendorf high school. I thought I heard someone say that with the wind chill it was 70 below. If we needed to go somewhere we had to walk. We were stuck without cars for many many days. And Bettendorf had better plow service Over Davenport.

  9. Gloria Beth Ferguson says:

    I remember it well. We were buried for four days.
    My daughter will always remember it too. After the storm she got her snow suit on to go play awhile in the snow.
    She stuck her tongue to aluminum steps. If she was hurt bad there was no way to gt her to Dr. She had quite a burn on her tongue but was ok. Yes we remember. Not sure if it was the same yr but once when temps were very low n hi winds our LP gas froze. Luckily we had a fireplace.
    Back then the winters were very harsh. Can remember wind chills of -80. And it stayed in a hard freeze all winter. Over the yrs it seems the climate has changed n is not that cold anymore.
    Freeze levels were 6ft down. That’s a solid freeze.
    I miss those days.

  10. Julie says:

    My brother, Joe, celebrated his 21st birthday (January 13, 1979) by cross-country skiing from Crow Valley Condos to Jumer’s Castle Lodge for his first legal drink. Our family was proud of him for making that effort … once he was safely home!
    And yes, today is his 60th birthday!

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