WyomingPBS

The Blizzard of '49

This one-hour documentary film tells the story of "Storm of the Century: The Blizzard of '49" - the worst series of storms in Wyoming's history. But for all the tragedy and loss, suffering and death, there was also hope and heroism, unselfish sacrifice and generosity. The blizzard brought out the best in people. Wyoming citizens from all walks of life cooperated together and demonstrated exceptional ingenuity in the face of dire circumstances. There were extraordinary acts of kindness, with people generously giving their time and resources. The public worked together to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and ultimately won in the end.

The story...

It began quietly enough as Sunday January, 2 1949 dawned under partly cloudy skies and a forecast for temperatures in the 20's and 30's with scattered snow showers. Later that day, the skies darkened, the winds picked up and the temperature began to drop. It began to snow. By that evening a full raging blizzard was upon the eastern portion of the state. It didn't let up for three days.

But that was just the beginning.. Additional violent snow storms continued to sweep through the state for the next 45 days. Throughout this series of storms, wind speeds fluctuated between 30 and 80 miles per hour. The snow drifted 20 to 30 feet high in places. The average temperature was consistently below zero.

Within 24 hours of the beginning of the first storm, all bus, rail and air traffic was effectively shut down. Entire communities were snowed in and immobilized. Ranches were cut off and isolated. Thirty-three hundred miles of state highways were inundated. Thousands of motorists and rail passengers were stranded. As the storms continued to rage, Wyoming towns began to run out of food. People, livestock and wildlife began to die.

The Air Force and Army were mobilized. Air Force Cargo planes dropped hay bales to starving livestock and food and medicine to isolated families. The U.S. Army mounted the largest bulldozer operation in history in an effort to clear roads and reach stranded cars.

But initial efforts at clearing roads ended in failure. As soon as a passage was opened it quickly shut down again with another storm or ground blizzard. The snowdrifts became so packed by continuing accumulation and driving winds that some likened their density to that of concrete. Sometimes dynamite had to be used to clear the way.

Astonishing sites like homes and businesses heaped to their roofs with snow and drifts reaching to the lower blades of windmills were common. Automobiles were buried, sometimes with people in them. Cattle frozen to death while still standing formed grotesque sculptures. Wildlife ambled through towns, dazed and starving and looking for food, only to be chased down by dogs.

Like the Dust Bowl storms with their ominous walls of black clouds, the 1949 blizzards raged white for nearly two months. The winds seldom stopped their incessant howl. When it was over, the last of the monumental drifts left in its wake eventually melted...in July.

Uncut Interviews - used in the production of The Blizzard of '49

Ruth Manring (Script)
Raymond Larsen (Script)
Phil Roberts (Script)
Phil Lackenby (Script)
Patricia Garner (Script)
Nonnie Crane (Script)
Larry Crummer (Script)
Keith Roman (Script)
Jimmy Shane (Script)
Jeff Obrecht (Script)
James Ehernberger (Script)
Jack Garner (Script)
Gaylord Pearson (Script)
Elaine Crummer (Script)
Dan Kinnaman (Script)
Chad Hahn (Script)
Carmen Shane (Script)
Bud Turner (Script)
Bill Althafer (Script)
Addi Schiltize (Script)
Frances Chalker (Script)

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  • Blizzard of 49 - Wyoming National Guard - Wyoming National Guard
    Blizzard of 49 - Wyoming National Guard
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