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Looking Back: The winter of 1880-1881

April 1, 2014

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A March 10, 1881, Rochester snowfall was reported as “the blizzardest kind of blizzard” in local newspapers.

The winter of 2013-14 is one of the worst in Michigan’s history, rated the second worst after the winter of 1880-1881. How did the Rochester newspapers report on that winter?

In December 1880, the Rochester ERA cited a major lack of water in streams and water levels so low that it was interfering with the operation of mills and factories. For Christmas 1880, there was an entire absence of snow. On Dec. 30, the paper read, “The 11 feet of snow that were prophesized are yet to come, much to the disappointment of our lumberman.”

Roads were reported to be nice and smooth, and traveling was “delightful.” However, the horses needed to be shoed twice a week, and only the blacksmith was happy about that.

In early January, 3 inches of snow fell — allowing the merry jingle of sleigh bells. The “large snowstorm last week” was reported as a failure. The continued low levels of water in creeks, rivers and cisterns left water supplies low.

By Jan. 27, the first report of heavy snow was noted, and trains were delayed. This was followed by cold weather and reports of diphtheria. February weather reports featured soaking rains, but no major snow.

On March 10, heavy snow was reported, along with the phrase “it was the blizzardest kind of blizzard.” The next week brought 5 additional inches of snow. Typical Michigan weather was reported March 24, with one day of “snow, rain, sunshine and the music of songbirds.”  Just as spring arrived, so did more snow in early April.

The Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm has a complete set of newspapers from 1872 – 1990s.

— Pat McKay, Rochester Hills Museum supervisor

For more local news coverage, see the following newspaper:


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