The Warmest & Coldest New Years Days on Record

January 1st, 2013 at 10:42 pm by under Chad's WLFI Weather Blog

January 1, 1876

Ehlfreth Family diary (Cass County):

“The warmest winter was probably that of 1875-76. New Year’s day, 1876, the mercury registered 72 °; the sun shone brightly, the grass was green, and it had more the appearance of a June day than New Years. It rained nearly every other day during January but February was warm, dry and dusty; spring birds, robins, bluebirds, etc., made their appearance and farmers were breaking their corn ground.”

The warmest New Year’s on record welcomed 1876 on the nation’s centennial.  Highs of 69-73° occurred, comparable with record-breaking January warmth in 1890 & 1950.  A severe weather event followed on New Year’s Day 1876 with damaging winds to 60 mph in our area.  F2 tornado occurred in Illinois with steel beams of a steel mill driven into the ground by the tornado at Springfield.  Widespread structural wind damage was reported at Chicago from the storms.  It appears a tornado may have struck Chicago with a path of homes & factories unroofed & church spires toppled through the city.  A four-story building collapsed & at least two brick house were “blown to the ground”.

“There was scarcely a wire standing over a great area of country. From all indication the storm extended over all the continent.”  It was most likely a widespread damaging wind event with embedded tornadoes.

To put it into perspective, Lansing, Michigan hit an amazing 70 on this date & 65 on New Year’s Day.

1875-76 is still regarded as the warmest winter on recorded for the area in what was regarded as “the year without a winter”.

January 1, 1864

Elhfreth Family diary (Cass County):

“The coldest day in Cass county was probably January 1, 1864, when the mercury registered 30 ° below zero (Fahrenheit), with the wind blowing a gale. The previous day was warm and pleasant but a blizzard from the northwest suddenly swept down on the section, with an unprecedented fall of temperature.”

After 40s, tremendous blizzard with over 12″ of snow, white-out conditions, strong winds & temperatures below zero hit the area.  The temperature dropped over 40 degrees in 24 hours.  At Richmond, Indiana, newspapers reported at the temperature dropped from 60 on December 31 to -28 by January 2.

New Years Day was especially rough with “a gale”, temperatures -15 to -10, many reports of hypothermia & than a low of -25 January 2.

Blizzard conditions were widespread across the Midwest, especially in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana & Ohio.  January 1-2, 1864 was regarded as the coldest 24 hours in all of the pioneer weather data in Logansport.

The third image was shown in Harper’s Weekly of the blizzard at Chicago on January 1, 1864. 

Brutal cold continued in the first 11 days of January 1864.  Clippers on the 2nd & 4th brought 1-4” of snowfall & 7 or the first 11 days with lows below 0 at Crawfordsville.  For Lafayette, the first 10 of 11 days were below zero at Lafayette.

Snow depth reached 17” in some places by January 4, with the new snowfall.

Interestingly, a major warm-up with record highs in the 60s occurred late in the month with rainfall & t’storms.


From the Emmetsburg Democrat, Wednesday, January 9, 1907:

Notable Adventure of Pioneer Days is Recalled.
It Swept Pariries of Northern Iowa, January 1, 1864
In the Register and Leader Sunday, January 6, by T.W.Harrison.

I have just read in the Emmetsburg newspapers an account of the death of Joseph T. Mulroney, one of the early settlers in Palo Alto county. In his death has passed from earth the last of a trio of nature’s heroes and prominent figures in a notable incident of the early prairie days.

January 1, 1864, was perhaps the coldest day ever experienced in Iowa and adjoining states. In many places of this latitude, men froze stiff and dead while sitting bolt upright in their wagons, with the reins of their restless horses in their hands. In northern Iowa the snow was deep and a fierce wind blew a terrific gale from the northwest. It was so soon after the Indian massacres of 1862 in southern Minnesota, that soldiers were stationed at Estherville and other towns to protect the settlers and to prevent the Indians from commiting other depredations. To furnish these soldiers with supplies was a difficult and hazardous task. No railroads approached that locality within two hundred miles. Food, clothing and ammunition had to be hauled on sleighs over a trackless prairie where the gullies were drifted full of snow from two to ten feet deep and pounded hard with the continuous winds.

Joe and Kiren Mulroney were  then mere boys living on a farm at old Soda Bar in the timber on the Des Moines River and Henry Archer another young man, was living in Humboldt county. That winter these three vigorous fellows volunteered for the government service of  hauling supplies to these far away posts of boys in blue. I knew all three of them intimately for years and heard from each the details of their experiences.

Mercury Frozen.

On that historic day of bitterest cold they were facing a terrific northwest blizzard with their sleigh loads of shelled corn which they were taking from central Iowa to those destitute troops.

The mercury was frozen solid and the sp??? thermometers was down to half a hundred below, and the howling, cracking, biting, whirling snow was so dense in the air that they could not see the length of a sleigh and team. A winter blizzard on northern trackless prairies is far more terrible than a hurricane at sea. At sea there is the shelter and warmth of the boat. Just shut your eyes and pray and let her go, and if kept in the wind’s courses, she will be likely to outride the storm. But in…….(line missing)….below zero and “the hissing serpents of the sea” with all their fury and weird and racking terrors, will be there, augmented a thousand fold by the lack of shelter and the indescribable frenzy of the pinching, relentless cold. Since the countyr has been improved with  cultivated fields and fences and hedges and groves such blizzards have not been known.

On this perilous trip Joe was always in the lead with the others close behind, each leading his horses with one hand and holding onto the hind end of the preceding sleigh with the other so that they could not become separated and lost for the horses were always determined to turn and go with the storm instead of against it. Each carried a shovel in his sleigh and sometimes for hours they would work like giants shoveling out a roadway through some drifted gully which would fill almost as fast as they could dig it out, but then the snow was soft so that they could pull through it. Their progress was necessarily slow, for their road was as unmarked as the storm tossed, trackless sea, and their wits had to be their guide as to direction and course.

The storm was so severe that Archer was in favor of pulling into some settlement on the Des Moines river and waiting until the blizzard should abate. But Joe was persistent, relentless and fearless. He said, “Those soldiers are starving and the government is depending upon us to get these supplies to them and I’ll never stop as long as we can make a mile a day.”

That day they were trying to cross Palo Alto county and intended to hit “Mickey” Jackman’s place in the timber on the east side of Medium lake for the night. But night overtook them too soon and at dark they were still out on the prairie and did not dare to proceed further for fear their horses would give out and die in their tracks. So they decided to stop for the night. They parked their sleighs in a semi-circle against the storm and tied their horses to the sleighs within that circle. Then they took their shovels and cut blocks of frozen snow and piled them up as a barricade six or eight feet high on the windward side of the sleighs to shelter themselves and their horses from the storm. They would remain inside this shelter with their horses as long as they could endure the cold, then they would go out and shovel snow as hard as they could against this wall until they got warm, and this they repeated from time to time all through that long and dreary night. Kiren was the youngest and they had a great difficulty in keeping him awake, but they did, for Joe and Archer knew that sleep meant death. The cold was so intense that hungry as they were the horses would not eat a kernel of that shelled corn.

The long and fearful night finally passed and daylight came, but with no relaxation of the sotrm or cold. They knew that they could not live there through another night. They could not see the sun and had no means of telling the direction or distance to Jackman’s place. They waited, hoping that the sun might send a guiding ray of light through the dense clouds of snow.

They Kept on in Face of Storm.

About noon they thought they could discren a place that appeared to be a little lighter than the rest and concluded it might be in the south and with that faint guide they determined to start and take what they thought to be a westerly course each riding a horse and leading another. Kiren was so chilled and frozen that they had to help him on to the house and it was with great difficulty that he could retain his hold there. But with Joe in the lead and Kiren in the middle and Archer in the rear they plunged out through the blinding blistering snow and in an hour they reached Jackman’s timber. “Mickey” was out looking after the stock and was as greatly surprised to see them as if they had dropped down from heaven. In amazement he asked, “Where in the world did you boys come from?” They replied, “Out on the prairie. We have been out on the prairie all night.” Mickey could not believe it and said, “My God, men, no none could live out on the prairie through last night.” They assured him that they had and told him to take the horses while they went into the house to get thawed out.

Legs and Feet Were Frozen

Mrs. Jackman was melting snow for soft water with which to wash and had a washtub full of snow and water. The one room log house was small and she told the men to take the tub outdoors to make more room. Archer said, “No, we have need of that water.” He knew that Kiren’s feet were frozen. They cut off his shoes and stockings and the legs of his trousers and found that not only his feet but his legs to the knees were frozen. They put his feet in that tub of ice water and bathed his limbs with it until the frost was drawn out and …(line missing)…probability saved his life for no surgeon could have been reached nearer than Fort Dodge, seventy miles away. As it was, the frost blisters caused the skin to slough from his feet and limbs like a pair of hip boots and it was three months before he could again wear shoes.

In three or four days the storm subsided but the bitter cold continued, and Joe and Archer, with the help of some other men and teams, took the three loads of corn to the famishing troops at Estherville.

After the close of the civil war Joe and Kiren became prosperous and wealthy farmers, always highly respected and greatly beloved by all who knew them. Five or six years ago Kiren was accidentally killed by a kick from a spirited horse he was leading to water. Archer moved to some point in Nebraska where he prospered and became a wealthy banker and influential citizen and he died there about two years ago. And now Joe, the strongest, most resolute and most fearless of them all has died at a time when he ought to have been in the full vigor of his mature manhood. And who can say that the terrible strain of that awful experience in that prairie blizzard forty-three years ago, while in the conscientious performance of unselfish duty, did not shorten the lives of Archer and Joe from ten to twenty years? And when the final roll of nature’s heroes shall be called, their names will be there, and not far down on the list, because they risked their lives in the performance of duty and for the love of their fellow men.

T.W. Harrison
Topeka, Kas.

6 Responses to “The Warmest & Coldest New Years Days on Record”

  1. Ryan H says:

    What boring weather pattern for a while! Ahhhhhhh!

  2. JEM says:

    And we get excited about 5″ of snow. If we just aren’t stupid or have a tornado land smack on top of us we have it pretty simple compared to our ancestors.

  3. Mary Anne Best says:

    I was just going to post…and we think we have it bad, LOL!! I do remember temps being minus 20* back in the 70s many, many nights and days with temp only reaching zero or maybe not even above zero. Most of you have not seen and “old fashioned” winter :-) I keep telling you..I am OLD, lol..

    it sure it a pretty one out there today, temp is only 20* after an overnight low of 6* above but the wind is not blowing, the sun is shining and it is beautiful out there!

    We traveled to Lake County yesterday….there is no snow up there.

    MA in REM

  4. ML in Rochester says:

    I also remember the 1970′s!!!! Cold was cold, and snow meant snow.

    Anyway, plentiful sunshine and cold in Rochester. An extremely nice winter day.


  5. Chuck says:

    My low temperature was -2 deg f @ 8:15 am. As of 2:30 pm, it is 16 deg f. Winds starting to move out of the south last hour. Going to be another cold night with this snowpack (4.5) and the ground now frozen. I do not think we will reach 20 deg f today.
    4.5 miles NE of Frankfort.

  6. Crista says:

    Boring weather straight ahead….ho hum…

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