Kathryn's Reviews > The Children's Blizzard

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin
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Apr 13, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2011
Read from April 13 to 24, 2011

One would not think offhand that a nonfiction book about a blizzard in the Dakotas and Nebraska in the 1880s would make interesting reading; but it does, especially when you have an author that did very good research on the immigrant population of the area, the United States Signal Corps (the precursor to the modern National Weather Service), and how weather systems react to cause dangerous weather. I very much enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anyone interested in any of those subjects.

The Blizzard that hit the Dakotas and Nebraska on January 12, 1888 became known as the Children’s Blizzard, because earlier in the day it had become much warmer than usual, with clear weather; so all the farmers went out into the snow-covered fields to take care of stock or other chores, and a good many children walked to their schoolhouses. But when it hit, with tropical-force winds and white-out conditions, it killed something like nearly 500 people across the whole Plains region, with about 20% of them being children.

At the time, the Plains had been touted as a Garden Of Eden for settlement, and many Germans and Swedes came to the Plains to start a new life, expecting ideal conditions, with maybe one or two heavy winters. What they got, of course, was typical Plains weather. And the prediction of bad dangerous weather (or, indeed, any weather) was not well developed; the Army used past predictions and logarithmic models to forecast weather, and were more concerned with commercial and business interests than with immigrants in sod houses.

The book goes into great detail (almost too much detail about the weather aspects of the Blizzard; not being a meteorologist, some of it went over my head, and about the politics within the National Service Corps that eventually led to the removal of weather prediction from the aegis of the United States Army. Attention is also given to the national coverage of the storm; as so many children were involved, many aspects of the storm got wide (if inaccurate) coverage across the United States.

Even to this day, families that have remained in the Plains since the 1880s remember the Blizzard, as every family has oral history of their family members who survived (and of those who did not survive.) This was a fascinating book, and a great read.
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