Pardon the Winterruption of 1949–1950

Posted January 1, 2020 at 5:47 am by

Here’s this month’s his­to­ry col­umn from the San Juan His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety and Muse­um

When this edi­to­r­i­al car­toon appeared in the Novem­ber 24, 1949 issue of the Fri­day Har­bor Jour­nal, no one could have fore­seen what was to come. It her­ald­ed the begin­ning of one doozy of a severe win­ter from Old Man Win­ter or more sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly, a his­toric series of arc­tic blasts of snow and wind.

By Decem­ber, snow­fall and freez­ing roads had caused the post­pone­ment of some island events. When school let out for the Christ­mas hol­i­day, it was the begin­ning of sev­er­al weeks of extend­ed clo­sure as each new storm clob­bered the islands. A New Year’s Day bliz­zard spread to most of north­west­ern Wash­ing­ton, while on San Juan Island it was the start of week after week of tem­per­a­tures stuck in the twen­ties, dip­ping down into the teens and below overnight.

This mem­o­rable win­ter was brought up dur­ing the “Old Islanders Tell It All” event at the San Juan Island Library recent­ly. Mary Jane Ander­son remem­bered that school was closed for near­ly two months by snow storms and impass­able roads. Ponds froze over, invit­ing fun slid­ing or skat­ing, and a few adven­ture­some dri­vers took cars for a spin atop the ice.

“Oh, the weath­er out­side is fright­ful…” (Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Lyrics by Sam­my Cahn)

Jan­u­ary 13, 1950 – Fri­day the 13th – went down as one of the worst days for extreme weath­er in west­ern Wash­ing­ton his­to­ry. The San Juans were not spared from the blizzard’s fury. It seems no place in Wash­ing­ton state was. Hur­ri­cane force winds were record­ed in sev­er­al areas of the region and the snow just kept falling…and blow­ing. Fri­day Har­bor record­ed an offi­cial low of eight degrees on that day, although some inte­ri­or loca­tions on the island report­ed lows of zero degrees.

As report­ed in the Jan­u­ary 19 edi­tion of the Fri­day Har­bor Jour­nal, the bliz­zard caused exten­sive dam­age on the island. At least nine small boats sank in Fri­day Har­bor. Pow­er and tele­phone lines were downed by falling trees. Almost every­one expe­ri­enced frozen pipes. In some homes, frozen water pipes forced bath­room fix­tures from the walls. It was one of the worst bliz­zards to strike San Juan Island in its record­ed his­to­ry. Yet the fer­ries still ran, although under­stand­ably off sched­ule, mail was faith­ful­ly deliv­ered by boats and planes, and line­man braved the ele­ments to restore pow­er to homes and businesses. 

“How I hate going out in the storm…”

What made these par­tic­u­lar storms of 1950 so severe? It was a rare com­bi­na­tion of arc­tic winds howl­ing down through the Fras­er Riv­er Val­ley, push­ing through British Colum­bia to the U.S. and then col­lid­ing with a sep­a­rate wet storm blow­ing in on a path from the Pacif­ic Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was a fierce bat­tle of weath­er forces over land and sea. Tim­ing is every­thing in weath­er. A per­fect storm of storms, one might say. 

“It doesn’t show signs of stopping…”

Jan­u­ary was a month marked by snow drifts, iced over roads, and wind. A warm front promised the state for Jan­u­ary 29 did not hap­pen when the front went off­shore. But the San Juans did thaw a bit and island schools were able to open on Mon­day, Jan­u­ary 30 after an unsuc­cess­ful attempt to open the pre­vi­ous Mon­day. As report­ed in the Feb­ru­ary 2 issue of the Fri­day Har­bor Jour­nal, “The chil­dren as well as the adults are tired of the win­ter and many of the stu­dents expressed the desire to return to their school work.” The Seat­tle Times report­ed in the same week that “Last month appar­ent­ly was designed to make the old set­tlers for­get all about the big win­ters of 1916 and 1893.” Then it snowed much of February.

As we would say today, “It was epic!”. We did not have a good pho­to to go with this sto­ry, so if you have snow pho­tos tak­en on the island dur­ing the win­ter of 1949–1950, please let us know at the San Juan His­tor­i­cal Muse­um. We can dig­i­tize them for our archives and illus­trate this his­toric winter.

You can support the San Juan Update by doing business with our loyal advertisers, and by making a one-time contribution or a recurring donation.

Categories: History

No comments yet. Be the first!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By submitting a comment you grant the San Juan Update a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate, irrelevant and contentious comments may not be published at an admin's discretion. Your email is used for verification purposes only, it will never be shared.

Receive new post updates: Entries (RSS)
Receive followup comments updates: RSS 2.0