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1948′s Unforgettable Winter

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Do you have your own story of the winter of 1948-1949? Send it to us! Send your memories to hollygeorge@utah.gov

Winter’s fun (right?). But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

Salt Lake City Main Street 1949 covered in snow

Salt Lake City Main Street, 1949

In 1948-49, the most severe winter on record beat up the West. Even Las Vegas got 17 inches of snow. Though other winters saw more snow, wind, extreme cold, and little thawing made the snow pile up. And up. And up. Think about that next time you want to complain about winter!

Three days of ferocious snow

Early in January 1949, a vicious three-day blizzard broke windows, damaged roofs, and blew snowdrifts six to ten feet high on roads and streets. After that the temperature fell to below zero. The drifts crusted so hard that snowplow crews struggled to remove them. Sardine Canyon, between Brigham City and Cache Valley, stayed closed for a month. People got stranded, even in Salt Lake City–18 families in Salt Lake’s Canyon Rim area had to be dug out.

Livestock starved and froze. The state launched “Operation Haylift,” dropping bales of hay from military cargo planes. The Sons of Utah Pioneers, perhaps thinking of the next year’s hunt, lobbied for the state to also feed deer, pheasants, ducks, and quail. Meanwhile, skaters took advantage of strong ice at the Liberty Park pond, and children played on the huge snowdrifts.

Another blizzard

Snow Plows in Utah, 1948

Snow Plows in Utah, 1948

On January 15, another blizzard struck, bringing more minus temperatures. Some people had a novel–and irrational–idea: The city should truck in salt water from the Great Salt Lake or water from hot springs to melt the snow on the streets.

And another, big-time!

Then on January 22 the mother of all blizzards roared in. Wind-whipped snow and slides closed roads all over the state. In Millard County, where the snow drifted as high as the telephone wires, a couple of men spent 36 hours stranded in a truck waiting for a snowplow to dig them out. Avalanches trapped skiers at Alta and Brighton–though a few decided to simply ski down Little Cottonwood Canyon to the valley.

A TRULY big chill

After the storm quit, the cold air hit: -25 degrees in Salt Lake City. Woodruff reached -45. Schools all over the Wasatch Front closed because gas supplies could not meet the demand. Coal companies could not deliver coal, and Utah Power and Light cut the power to its generators. The big freeze continued for several days, and then again on February 5, headlines read: “New Blizzard Throttles Utah.” And so it went, snowing all the way into April. The one thaw came in late February, and it brought its own miseries: flooding. An ice jam dammed a canal, flooding houses around 800 West and between 1300 and 1700 South.

Yep, it was a hard winter, but people rose to the occasion. They did what needed to be done. And many were heroic in their efforts to help others get through a bitter cold time.

From Mark Eubank

We asked meteorologist Mark Eubank if 1948-49 was the snowiest winter on record. It was not. Here is what he said:

First, let’s talk about WHEN we get the snow.

Winter is a specific period comprising three months or about 90 days. Meteorologically, winter includes the months of December, January, and February. Since it can also snow in the Fall and in the Spring we have a snowfall year, which typically runs from September through May. So when we say a certain season was extra snowy, we need to define the time period.

Most people tend to think of the “winter” season (December thru February) when they remember stormy years. I think that is true because much of the Spring snow melts quickly.

Winners of the “Most Snow” award:

Here is a list showing the top five “winters” and the top five “snowfall years.”

Snowiest Utah “Winters” Snowiest Utah “Snowfall Years”

                     Dec-Feb

     Snowfall                      Sep-Jun       Snowfall

1995-96

69.0″

1943-44

91.3″

1951-52

70.2″

1983-84

98.0″

1948-49

74.7″

1992-93

98.7″

1968-69

74.9″

1973-74

110.8″

1992-93

80.4″

1951-52

117.3″

 
 

 

The top two snowfall years had heavy Winter snows PLUS a lot of snow in Fall and Spring.

The Winter of 1992-93 was exceptional. In fact, it ranks at number one, plus there was a lot of snow in the Fall.

Cold + snow is what we remember

The reason the Winter of 1948-49 is so noteworthy is because the snowfall was accompanied with exceptional cold! In fact, 1948-49 is the combined coldest-snowiest Winter ever measured in Utah. That combination kept the snow around for most of the Winter, and in addition the wind blew the snow into huge drifts.

Winters in Utah can be cold and dry, or cold and wet. Or they can be warm and dry or warm and wet. The warm and wet Winters are quickly forgotten, but the cold and wet Winters are the ones that leave lasting impressions.

While the Winter of 1992-93 was the snowiest, it didn’t even rank in the top 15 for cold.

Winners of the “coldest” weather award:

Coldest Utah Winters

  Dec-Feb   Snowfall Avg Temp

1963-64

39.1″

24.0

1931-32

41.9″

24.0

1930-31

15.0″

23.4

1948-49

74.7″

19.8

1932-33

66.2″

19.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post by Kristen Rogers-Iversen, Associate Director, State History