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Looking back to the worst Utah winter: 1948-1949
Article Published 12/23/2013
Below freezing temperatures for days, a lengthy inversion and even freezing rain. That’s some of the highlights of Layton City’s December weather so far – shaping up to be a pretty severe winter.
However, ask anyone in northern Utah who was here in the late 1940s and is age 74 and older and chances are they will recall the winter of 1948-49 as being the all-time worst winter here.
Jay Dansie, 86, a lifelong Layton resident, said what he recalls most that unusual winter was all the news about C-47 planes that airlifted hay to stranded cattle and other livestock in Utah and even Arizona.
Bill Sanders, Director of the Heritage Museum of Layton, said he was about age 10 during that winter and remembers it well.
“I grew up on a farm in Kaysville just west of the Kaysville City Cemetery,” he stated. “The lane into our farmhouse paralleled the west side of the cemetery. During the bad winter, the snow drifted across the cemetery and piled so high on our lane that a snow plow could not get through to our farmhouse. The drifts were probably four to five feet tall. To get to work, my father had to park his car next to the cemetery gate and walk through the snow to our farmhouse. My mother was stuck on the farm for almost a month. The only way she could get out was to hike through the fields to Crestwood Road. My older brother and I were students at the Kaysville Elementary School so we moved in with our grandparents who lived in downtown Kaysville so that we could make it to school.”
Sanders continued: “On the flip side of the story, it was great fun for winter type sports. We could ski down the hills into the hollow to the north of the cemetery and we could ice skate on Simmons Pond because the ice got so thick. We had to use shovels to clear away the snow, but once the snow was removed it was great skating. Also, the streets of Kaysville were almost always covered with snow and ice so you could hitch a ride on our sleigh behind a car. At times we would hitch three or four sleighs to a car and go around several blocks. There was one lane in West Kaysville that was always icy and the car could turn around in the farmyard so we would hitch a ride. The lane was very long so we got a good ride.”
Sanders noted that the terrible winter was very hard on wildlife.
“Deer came down out of the mountains by the hundreds and a lot died because they could not find food,” he stated. “My father used to feed a herd of about twenty to twenty-five near one of our haystacks. Many farmers in the area fed the deer straw because that was the only feed available. The deer got so weak that they got caught on barbed wire fences as they tried to jump over. … Other small animals were seen in the downtown area of the city -- mountain lions, foxes, etc.”
“Many people lost plants and shrubs around their houses because the deer were so plentiful. They also almost killed the fruit orchards because they stripped the bark from the trees,” he concluded.
The winter of 1948-1949 had a two-punch combination of both frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall.
The National Weather Service rates the 1948-49 winter as the No. 4 weather event for Utah during the 20th century.
Its summary: "Utah's most severe winter since 1899 ... It was the coldest winter on record, with record amounts of seasonal snowfall ... Nearly a 25 percent loss in some livestock herds reported. Many fruit trees were killed. Wildlife struggled for existence. Tourist trade reached an all-time low, and 10 people died from exposure."
Ogden City suffered its coldest-ever recorded temperature on Jan. 26, 1949 – 16 degrees below zero. It is likely that most of Layton City was that cold too.
For example, on Jan. 23 and Jan. 24, 1949, there were 23 inches of snow at the Salt Lake Airport, the third greatest amount on record. Then, on Jan. 25, the temperature dipped to 7 degrees below zero and never topped 8 degrees above zero for a high.
The Wasatch Front was frozen in a temperature inversion for long periods during that winter too.
December of 1948 produced 39 inches of snow at the Salt Lake Airport. There were just seven days that month that lacked snowfall. In addition, there were only eight snow-less days in January 1949 and nine in February. Even March of 1949 wasn’t much better, with snow falling on 11 of the 31 days in March 1949.
December in Salt Lake City produced two subzero temperature days; January had 13 and February four total.
Winds were also a hazard that winter.
On Feb. 7, 1949, 10 inches of snow were recorded at the Salt Lake Airport, followed by near hurricane-force winds. The blowing snow closed schools in the Davis and Weber school districts, both county’s hit the hardest.