Blizzards in Lyon County
Lyon County, Iowa
Even a mild winter can be dangerous if a severe storm comes on unexpectedly. S.G. Martin found this out in January of 1870 when he was traveling by horse and wagon with his daughter Lilly and son Clay from LeMars to Lyon County. With no place to take cover on the open prairie, Mr. Martin built a shelter out of sacks of flour arranged in a circle and covered with blankets. The family survived the cold in this shelter for three days before the wind moved on and they could make their way to Doon where they were taken in by the H.D. Rice family.
Early historians of Lyon County predicted settlers would have nothing to fear from blizzards once houses were as close as every twenty or thirty miles. But, even with greater numbers of farms, an unexpected turn in winter weather could still threaten lives. The most famous of these unexpected blizzards was the massive one that struck from Texas to Minnesota and then moved east in 1888. A shirt-sleeves, 70-degree day turned into -28 degrees in Lyon County in less than twenty-four hours on January 12 of that year. School children and others caught outside unprepared were killed or maimed across the plains. Some 235 died from Texas to Minnesota. In Lyon County, Johann Langfeldt, when a boy, was one victim. He lost his hands and feet to the unexpected, severe cold.
Other winters were not so much surprising as unrelenting. 1872 was a bad winter. So was 1880-81. That year mail was stopped for weeks; the train didn’t run for months.Without coal or other fuel, some in Lyon County burned “excellent ear corn.” 1000 bushels were burned in stoves and railroad locomotives. At 15 cents per bushel, it was cheaper than coal that couldn’t be had anyway. Hard winters are not just a thing of the past. In the winter of 2013-2014, Lyon County was at the core of the polar vortex that slipped from the Arctic into central North America and stayed for months.
Lyon County resident Daniel E. Sorenson remembers that the best way to pass the winter is by a radio listening to baseball’s spring training games being played in Florida. “I would shut my eyes, tune out the howling wind and be transported to the land of sun and warmth as I listened to the Red Sox in Sarasota playing host to the Yankees or the Dodgers. As long as the game was on and I was snug in a warm house, I, too, enjoyed the beautiful weather and dreamed of being lucky enough to play major league baseball. Then I could spend these snowstorm months in Florida like my heroes.”