DISCUSSION: As turn the clocks back to the Winter of 1887, we arrive at the occurrence of the infamous 1887 blizzard. There is no question that this was one of the more historic blizzards in recorded North American history. Attached below is an exact excerpt of the story from Smithsonian.com as written by Laura Clark who is a writer and editor based over in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
"Through much of the late 1870's and into the 1880's, cooler summers and mild winters meant that feeding the animals was relatively easy: grass and feed was typically pretty plentiful. But everything changed in the disastrous winter of 1886-1887.
A blazing hot summer had scorched the prairies, so when snow started falling in early November much of the frontier’s livestock were already starving and ill equipped for a hard winter. The problem became a catastrophe when, on January 9, 1887, a blizzard hit, covering parts of the Great Plains in more than 16 inches of snow. Winds whipped, and temperatures dropped to around 50 below.
Few farmers had hay stored for their cattle, so many cows that weren’t killed by the cold soon died from starvation. When spring arrived, millions of the animals were dead, with around 90 percent of the open range’s cattle rotting where they fell. Those present reported carcasses as far as the eye could see. Dead cattle clogged up rivers and spoiled drinking water. Many ranchers went bankrupt and others simply called it quits and moved back east where conditions appeared less punishing. They called the event “The Great Die-Up,” a macabre play on the term “round-up.”
Ultimately, the disaster altered not just the development of the west, but also the direction of America’s agriculture. Ranchers stopped keeping such gigantic stocks of cattle and began larger farming operations in order to grow food for the animals they had. Most also quit the open range, where livestock could roam far from grain reserves, in favor of smaller, fenced in grazing territories. The winter of 1886-1887 signaled the beginning of the end to the days of roving cowboys and the untamed western wilderness.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz