In mid-January, with temperatures above freezing in the Plains states, people worked outside in shirt sleeves and schoolchildren left their coats home. Then a surprise blizzard struck Montana, Dakota Territory and Nebraska Jan. 12 and 13. The temperature suddenly dropped to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Known as the Children’s Blizzard, the storm caught students in classrooms and farmers in fields. Hundreds lost their lives trying to get home, and thousands of cattle froze to death. It you had a relative in the area who died, David Laskin might’ve mentioned him in The Children’s Blizzard (Harper Perennial).
An unusual cold snap in the Pacific Northwest and California preceded that blizzard, and later in the season, extreme weather also paralyzed the East Coast. There, it had been a warm winter with below-normal precipitation — then March 12 and 13, the Great Blizzard dropped 40 to 50 inches of snow on New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. About 400 people died, railroads shut down, ships were grounded and imports stopped. Blizzard: The Great Storm of ’88 by Judd Caplovich (Vero Publishing) details the storm and its aftermath.