On December 9, 1919, the mid-valley embraced a stunning sheet of new-fallen snow. Just in time for the holidays! Joyous denizens reached for sleds, sleighs and skates, eager to partake of its wintry idyll.
Our Albany Daily Democrat correspondent was moved to florid bursts, hailing the weather as "nature's ermine," spreading a "white mantle over hills and dales," imagery appropriate for Victorian prose and/or Yes/Led Zeppelin LPs.
That mood quickly shifted, however, as the snow persisted. For three whole days. Stopping traffic. Delaying mail trains. Flattening buildings. Burdening pipes. Snuffing heat. Shuttering stores. Locking mothers-in-law out of basements (that one may have been on purpose; we're still waiting on confirmation). Heck, it even clogged the Santiam Canal and burped rivers into the streets.
The temperature dropped to 15 degrees below zero, inspiring the frazzled Democrat exclamation, "Fifteen degrees below zero!", perhaps one of the best weather-package leads in our newspaper's history (it's vaguely Jennifer Moody-ian).
By the time it was over, and we'd returned to our normal rain, we'd survived a 25-inch-plus deluge of the white stuff, making the 1919 storm one of our worst snowfalls on record.
Our own snowpocalypse may be a bust, but please, from a comfortable distance of — oh, a near-century — please enjoy a week of long-gone frozen misery.
Tuesday, December 9, 1919
Snow spreads white mantle over hills and dales of Linn County; coasting is predicted
Tonight and Wednesday snow in eastern Oregon, rain or snow in Western Oregon. Warmer tonight with fresh easterly gales, says the weather bureau report.
The snow fall appears to be general over the entire western part of the state. The precipitation up to 9 o'clock this morning was three inches. The minimum last night was 20 degrees above zero. Traffic has been slowed up, but little inconvenience expected.
Albany is today experiencing its unusual visitation of snow which comes to the Willamette Valley at rare intervals of several years apart. Snow began falling at 2 o'clock this morning and remained steadily at it until nearly noon, placing a mantle of nearly six inches of nature's ermine upon the ground and buildings of the city.
The temperature reached a minimum last night of 30 degrees and a maximum yesterday of 38 degrees. This is 10 degrees warmer than it was the night before. This noon the wind swerved to the north, indicating that devotees of the coasting sport will soon be enjoying that fun.
Pete Anderson, who is usually the first out with his sleigh, resurrected his old runners and was seen driving over the streets of the city. What few sleds are owned in the city are also making their appearance and former easterners are looking forward to the enjoyment of some old-time coasting.
Wednesday, Dec. 10, 1919
Snow halts all traffic in valley
Like a blast of a volcano or the tremors of an earthquake, the snowstorm which struck Albany yesterday morning turned the population from preparations for Christmas in the busiest season ever experienced here and put business almost at a standstill.
Except for a few stray shoppers and numerous adventurous children, there are very few people on the streets. Albany is not used to snow, and it comes so seldom that it takes a few days to get used to it.
The steady fall which commenced Tuesday morning has kept up almost continuously and this noon fully 24 inches of snow covered the ground. The official report this morning stated 20 inches up to 8 o'clock.
Many reports of old buildings falling have been received. The Irvin automobile warehouse, supposedly a solid structure at 10th and Vine streets, fell to the ground this morning and covered several cars beneath the wreckage. The old barn on Water Street, back of M. Senders & Co.'s store, caved in before noon under the weight of the snow. Trees and shrubs are feeling the effect of the snow and many fine shade trees have been broken. Fruit trees are also suffering and it is believed that considerable damage will be done.
The younger generation is enjoying the situation immensely. Sleds have come out from years of repose and are being fixed up for service. The hill back of the cemetery near the Calapooia River was the scene of a merry throng yesterday, although coasting was not as successful today. The snow is too dry and deep. A little thaw and a freeze would give the youngsters what they want.
Last night was the coldest of the winter, with the mercury down to 16 degrees above zero. The temperature modified this morning and shortly this afternoon the snow fell in larger, wetter flakes.
The barometric pressure, however, is very low and the weather bureau predicts more snow and a gale tonight.
Railroad traffic was at a standstill up to a late hour this afternoon. Train No. 64 in two sections from California arrived here at 4:30 this morning and was unable to go further, until this afternoon when it left for Portland. S.P. train No. 14 only got to Salem last night and No. 13 was held up at Clackamas. No. 53, leaving Portland at 1 o'clock a.m., was annulled and consequently the valley is without its morning Portland papers and mail. All branch trains on the S.P. were annulled today. The Springfield train tried to back in from Lebanon but was forced to go back and reached this city late this morning.
The Oregon Electric train from the south last night was held up at Albany and this morning no other trains were running. This train started on today and trains are attempting to reach the city from both directions.
The rural mail carriers went out this morning on account of having no mail to deliver and because of the deep snow. Some of the city carriers made a round late in the morning.
The Kirk-McKern Motor Co. (see location here) assisted in cleaning a road through the streets, Mr. McKern disporting on a rubber-tired Fordson [tractor] and making the snow fly with the delight of a school boy. Scrapers, shovels and other implements are in play, clearing the snow from crossings, sidewalks and roofs.
Railroad men reaching the city this morning state that there is no snow at Cottage Grove, the storm ending south of Eugene, the worst part of the zone being in the north.
C.H. Stewart [who in his lifetime was an Albany postmaster, county judge, fire chief and newspaper compositor, among other things] claims that the snow fell 30 or 36 inches in 1884 [The Dalles reported 29.5 inches in a single day during the Dec. 16-18, 1884, snowstorm, according to the state; Albany's highest one-day total was 16] and a sleet gave it a coating which later froze over and he walked to work at the Democrat office on a pair of snow shoes made from a couple of barrel staves.
The storm of the winter of 1867-68 was the worst remembered by Mr. Stewart. He had just begun work on the Democrat that year. The Calapooia River froze over and ice was sawed out and stored for the summer. A heavy snow followed and sleighing was enjoyed for six weeks.
Another heavy snowfall occurred in 1892, and in January 1909 there was about a week of sleighing and coasting in the valley towns.
While Linn County people are not generally pleased with the weather of this character they feel fortunate that it occurs only once in many years and is never like what is commonly found to the east and middle west every winter.
Near-blizzard conditions prevailed in nearly every portion of the state, except southwest Oregon. Roads are almost impassable. The fuel situation is not yet serious although Salem reported that the city is completely out of coal. Governor [Ben] Olcott telephoned Fuel Administrator [Harry] Garfield asking for the release of a car of coal on the siding.
Thursday, Dec. 11, 1919
Thermometer registers 11 degrees above zero here last night; conditions are improved
The storm situation is greatly improved in this vicinity today. The thermometer dropped to 11 degrees above zero last night and froze the snow that had fallen into a compact mass. Paths which had been cut during the day made travel comparatively easy throughout the day.
More fear is now expressed over the results of the possible quick thaw than over the snow itself. A sudden melting of the mass of snow that covers the Willamette Valley would result in one of the greatest floods in the history of the state. But this is not anticipated and it is believed that the thaw will take its natural course. The weather prediction for tonight is snow and colder with moderate northerly winds.
Train traffic is rapidly resuming and several through trains have gone through from both directions, all of them late. The Oregon Electric managed to get its tracks cleared this morning and trains are again going to Eugene. Mail deliveries resumed again this morning with the arrival of the delayed eastern mail, as well as local.
Friday, December 12, 1919
Coldest weather recorded over 30 years experienced in Albany and Pacific Northwest
The record for cold weather for a great many years was broken here last night when the mercury dropped to 11 degrees below zero, according to the report of local weather forecaster, F.M. French.
In 1881 it is said that the thermometer showed 16 degrees below zero. The zero point was reached last night and the weather dropped at about two degrees an hour until the extreme was reached. Houses all over the city are in a bad way and plumbers are working overtime to repair broken pipes. It is difficult to heat up in some homes and buildings and there is considerable discomfort. Indications point to more bad weather tonight.
The total snowfall to date is 25½ inches. Residents at Tangent that the mercury stood at 14 degrees below zero at 8 o'clock this morning.
Jefferson cut off
Two feet of snow on the ground and the thermometer showing eight degrees above zero is the situation here this morning. Nearly all the country schools are closed, also the town school. The rural mail carriers were unable to make their rounds on account of the deep snow and many telephone lines are down. A lot of the farmers are completely isolated.
Saturday, December 13, 1919
Mercury falls to 15 degrees below; city threatened with failure of water supply; public must aid
Fifteen degrees below zero!
Only once in the history of Linn County has a lower temperature been recorded, when on one Sunday morning in January 1875, the mercury dropped to 16, one degree lower than last night's record.
Weather forecaster F.M. French does not promise any relief from this condition within the next 24 hours, but indications are that tomorrow will be warmer but not warm enough to thaw the ice and snow. Tonight is to be warmer, it is stated. Moderate southeast winds are due Sunday.
With that continued drop in the weather, Albany residents felt the effects of the freeze-up more keenly last night. Many pipes were broken and much discomfort is experienced. Many places have trouble in keeping warm.
Last evening a pipe burst in the upper story of the post office building and before Frank Powell could spread the alarm and, assisted by other employees, turn on all faucets in the building, many gallons of water had been spilled, causing much damage to the building.
This morning a pipe in the basement of the courthouse broke and water damaged a number of maps and papers in the office of John Penland, county highway engineer. As a result of the break it is impossible to heat the upper stories of the building and business is practically suspended.
The coldest place in Oregon yesterday was at Elgin, Wallowa County, where the temperature was 40 degrees below zero. All over Oregon, cold weather prevails: Marshfield, 18 above; and Newport, 15 above zero, being the two warmest spots in the state. Portland is not as cold as valley towns. Albany and Salem seem to be in the center of the cold belt.
Monday, December 15, 1919
West Albany has surplus supply of water today; basements full
Residents of the southwest part of the city were greatly inconvenienced yesterday and today on account of the overflow of the Santiam Canal. The ice in the canal caught the drifting slush, which went to the bottom and caused the water to back up, overflowing a large territory.
Yesterday afternoon the basement of Dr. A. Stark's house was reached by the sheet of water stretching northeast from the canal and later in the day it reached as far as the home of E.F. Fortmiller at Eleventh and Ferry streets. This morning, Lloyd Templeton, on Washington Street, was completely surrounded and he was unable to get out of his house. His partner, G.T. Hockinsmith, went to his rescue before noon and assisted in moving things in the house.
The water in the canal was shut off about half at Lebanon and this relieved the pressure to a considerable extent. This afternoon the water had receded about on the flats south of 12th Street and the Mountain States Power Company [now Pacific Power] believes that the situation is now well in hand. Skating was enjoyed yesterday and today where the water covering the fields had been frozen.
The power company has a crew of 15 to 20 men at work breaking the ice and floating it down the ditch and over the falls at the outlet of the flume into the Calapooia River. It is expected that this will be cleared out before night.
The belief that Albany is apt to have a water shortage is not founded, officials of the company say, and unless a fast thaw comes, they are of the opinion that they can handle the situation. A rapid melting of the snow and ice would have caused a bad overflow in the canal and might put the water plant out of commission for a time.
Care in the use of water is still advised, for a conservation of the supply is necessary.
Weather turns for the better
The weather took a turn for the better yesterday and while it is still cold enough to satisfy the most pessimistic, there is hope for a rapid clearing up of the situation. The minimum temperature recorded Saturday night was eight degrees below zero, while Sunday night the mercury only went to six above zero. The prospects for tomorrow are rain or snow, says the weather bureau.
Yesterday skating was enjoyed by devotees on the overflow of the Calapooia in Bryant Park and at Copenhagen. The overflow of the Santiam Canal furnished a smooth pond this morning and some were seen gliding over its surface.
Just how long the cold spell will hang on cannot be foretold, but it is believed that the thaw is coming soon and that in a few days the city will be back to normal again.
Mother-in-law locked out of basement
The report comes this morning that a certain young man of the city won a victory yesterday over his mother-in-law and the victor is today rejoicing that the son-in-law's time has come regardless of the weather and the great world's unrest in many other respects. It appears that the son-in-law was sent into the basement of the house to adjust the water pipes with the understanding that the mother-in-law would be present to give the proper instruction. However, the son-in-law concluded to speed up a little and reached the basement first and locked the door and simply dehorned the stove by taking out all the pipes while the enraged mother-in-law pawed in the snow, and thumped on the door, it is said, seeking admittance.
Tuesday, December 16, 1919
Light rain is felt for time
Shortly after noon today, a light rain began falling in Albany and for a time it appeared that the deep snow and the cold spell were doomed to go at one swoop, leaving in their stead a mass of icy water in the streets and all over the county. But after an hour's drizzle the weather became a little cooler and the rain stopped.
F.M. French, local weather observer, states that it is his opinion that the snow will lay on for two or three weeks yet. The history of the past big snows, he said, shows that in every case they have laid on the ground for two to six weeks, and he does not look for any hasty of exit of old Borious at this time. Other prognosticators, however, believe that warm rains are due and that the snow will melt in a hurry.
Last night the lowest mark reached by the mercury was 12 degrees above zero, while the warmest part of yesterday was 25 above. Today appeared to be somewhat warmer, although no official figures were obtained at press time.
Residents living along the Santiam and Willamette rivers and in low places along the Calapooia River and other streams of the county are warning to be on the lookout for high water if a sudden, radical change in the temperature is encountered.