Blizzard of '49

Blizzard stranded hundreds, killed 18 and served as reminder
written by Mike Peters for the Weld County Past Times
published Saturday, January 16, 1999

On January 2, 1949, the weather forecast for northern Colorado was for a “few light snow flurries.” It may have been the worst weather prediction in history because the “Blizzard of ‘49” struck that day.

Fifty mph winds drove the heavy snow through Greeley and Weld County, which covered entire houses, stopped trains, stranded motorists and killed people and cattle. More than 450 people were stranded at tiny Rockport in northern Weld County, with 300 of them jammed inside a dance hall when highways closed between Greeley and Cheyenne. It took three days for a rescue crew on a bus and snowplow-equipped train to reach them.

In a three-state area, more than 2,000 people were stranded on snowbound trains. After failed rescue attempts with snowplows attached to the fronts of locomotives, Union Pacific Railroad used its last resort to get through the snow: a rotary snowplow that used a propeller-type blade to break through the 10- and 20- foot snowdrifts across the tracks.

Most businesses in Greeley and Weld County closed, along with schools and government offices. No mail was delivered for several days. In La Salle and Greeley, trains were stopped and hundreds of passengers had to wait out the storms. Community churches brought food for the stranded strangers.

On the fourth day after the blizzard hit, tragedy was found. In the area of heaviest snow in northern Weld County, a farm family was found dead a mile east of their home.

Searchers said they were driving home late that Sunday night, became stranded in the storm and the next morning, with the blizzard still raging, tried to walk home. The bodies of Philip and Iona Roman and their two children Tony, 10, and Peggy, 8, were found in the snowdrifts.

Their deaths raised the storm-related toll to six in Colorado, with four dead in Wyoming and two more in Nebraska. Dozens were hospitalized from frostbite, frozen limbs and other cold-related injuries.

In the aftermath of the blizzard, the number of dead stood at 18 for the three-state area, and cattle losses reached into the thousands.

This is a reprint from an article written by Greeley Tribune reporter Mike Peters in the Tribune’s 125th anniversary section.