PAT NEAL: That winter was a hard one

IF I’VE HEARD this once, I’ve heard it a million times from the local old-timers, “That winter was a hard one. We don’t have winters like that anymore.”

Perhaps the best description of a Peninsula winter came from the million-seller memoir by Betty McDonald about a pair of newlyweds taking over an abandoned chicken farm in the wilds of Chimacum just after World War II.

Critics maintain that McDonald’s book, “The Egg and I,” was racist and sexist but unfortunately these stereotypes were the norm at the time.

The book captured life on the homestead before electricity, radio and telephones were common.

Her description of winter rings true to this day, complaining, “a Mother Nature who made winter so wetly, coldly soggily miserable.”

My own memories of hard winters go back to the winter of 2007.

That was a memorable one.

On the morning of Dec. 3, winds of 100 mph were hitting our coast knocking down trees, flooding roads and knocking out power to 75,000 households throughout the region.

The winter of ’97 was a doozie. The Hood Canal Bridge was closed for three days. Buildings collapsed. There was no bread in Sequim.

The winter of ’85 was a bad one where the knee-deep snow melted off the roof so fast it formed giant icicles overnight. One of them fell and took out a window.

The winter of ’77 was a bad one but I don’t remember much of it because hey, it was the ’70s.

In 1969, there was so much snow on the roof of the house, we thought it would collapse so I went up to shovel it off.

When I fell off the roof the snow was so deep it didn’t hurt at all. I think the head injuries helped my writing.

That was nothing compared to the hard winter of 1893.

That’s what the old-timers called the winter of the blue snow.

Snow started falling in Port Angeles on Jan. 27 and fell every day through Feb. 7 until 75 inches were measured on the ground.

The temperature fell to 1 degree below zero.

That was the hardest winter ever recorded in Port Angeles, made even harder by what was known as “The Panic of ’93.”

This was a depression or a recession or what we call hard times.

It started off when wheat prices crashed.

Before they knew it, 500 banks closed and 15,000 businesses failed, among them the Northern Pacific Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad.

This came as a shock to the sparse population of the Olympic Peninsula whose railroad dreams convinced no one that a mountainous peninsula surrounded on three sides by treacherous waterways would be an ideal terminus for the transcontinental railroad.

Port Angeles was so broke during the hard winter of 1893 that the only paper money in town was a counterfeit bill.

Merchants kept using it because it was the only money there was.

Some truly memorable weather reporting came from the Press Expedition of 1890.

On Jan. 3, they reported three and a half feet of snow at their camp which was located just west of the current junction of U.S. Highway 101 and state Highway 112.

The snow was reported to be breast high in places down along the Elwha River where the water was filled with floating ice and snow.

The Port Angeles weather station reported that the month of February was the coldest month of the winter with temperatures 7.8 degrees lower than normal.

The way the weather is going this year we should all be able to say someday, “2019? That winter was a hard one.”

_________

Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected].

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