(Photo Credit: XIT Museum in Dalhart, Texas)
While certainly a center of severe weather activity during the summer months, the southwestern United States is not commonly thought of as a geographic area prone to strong and impactful winter storms. This is undoubtedly true at the end of March when temperatures average well above freezing throughout a majority of the region. However, a three day event at the end of March in 1957 brought portions of southwestern Kansas and the Texas/Oklahoma panhandle one of the most devastating blizzards the country has ever seen.
After a relatively cold start to the month, historical data from 1957 in Dodge City, KS reveals an abnormally warm mid-March with a maximum high temperature of 79°F observed on March 10th. While temperatures remained in the 70’s for another week, they fell quickly at the end of the month and by March 23rd the high temperature barely reached the freezing mark, 32°F exactly. A surface analysis chart for the night before shows the presence of a low pressure system situated over western Colorado, initially bringing heavy rain to the panhandle region (pictured below).
(Photo Credit: NOAA Central Library)
As the system strengthened and moved southeast, an influx of cold air from the north simultaneously dropped temperatures and initiated a transition from rain to snow overnight into the day on March 23rd. By that evening, the system had deepened 10 mb. from its pressure just 24 hours earlier to a pressure of 986 mb. and quickly moved southeast into northern Texas (for more information on pressure systems and how they work click here!). For nearly two straight days the area was engulfed by heavy snow and high winds that resulted in near whiteout conditions.
In total, this event brought a multitude of locations upwards of 15 inches of accumulating snow in just a 48 hour period. Wind gusts near 60 mph created huge snow drifts, some of which measured up to 30 feet. One of the most dangerous winter storms to ever impact the area, this blizzard claimed 11 lives, a substantial amount of livestock and caused $6 million of damage (in 1957 dollars). The historic 1957 winter storm impacted all who lived in the Texas panhandle region at the time and as stories from those who survived are passed down through generations, it shall not soon be forgotten.
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©2020 Weather Forecaster Dennis Weaver