It started snowing on Sunday, April 8, 1973. And it was still snowing on Monday, April 9, 1973. And the wind blew hard, at times more than 50 mph. It was the April blizzard of 1973.
It was only 12 inches of snow, according to official reports, but the winds created drifts that were reported as high as 6 feet to 14 feet. It immobilized Appanoose County.
The stores were closed, the highways were closed. The underpass on old Highway 5 near Moravia was packed full of snow and couldn’t be cleared with blades. The mail didn’t go because there were no roads or sidewalks clear enough to approach homes. Funerals were postponed. Schools were closed for the whole week.
The snowplows tried to clear the roads, but the force of the blizzard was too great. Plows were stuck; people were stranded in their cars. People remained where they were, for the most part. Desperate motorists braved the snow to get to the first house they could find. In the rural areas, homes became hotels for stranded motorists. Hosts welcomed the frozen visitors with open arms, put them up for the night on Monday night, and some even still on Tuesday night. They fed them meals and made them feel at home, even though many of these people were meeting for the first time, brought together by the blizzard. Many friends were made.
By Wednesday, the plows were working hard, but highways 2 and 5 were only cleared enough to allow one lane of traffic. In most places the snow was so deep it was described as fence-top to fence-top, and it seemed like a tunnel in many spots where the 10-foot-high drifts were like cliffs on either side of the roadway.
The devastation caused by the blizzard was immense. Farmers lost entire herds of cattle. The cows had, by instinct, sought shelter near a ditch or embankment to get out of the wind, but the snow drifted in on top and buried them, or their nostrils filled with snow, and they were suffocated. People died of heart attacks while trying to dig out of the monstrously high drifts.
Prior to the blizzard, the new Rathbun Lake was already at its all-time highest level, and the restrooms on the beach were partially submerged. The blizzard promised to exacerbate the problem when the snow began to melt. It was April, and warmer temperatures were just around the corner.
That was 40 years ago. Everyone who lived through it has a “Blizzard of ’73” story. What’s yours?
Information submitted by Lisa Eddy, curator, Appanoose County Historical Society, 100 West Maple, Centerville, 856-8040, www.appanoosehistory.com.