Navigation Menu+


1. A long severe snowstorm, 2. an intensely strong cold wind filled with fine snow, 3. An over whelming rush or deluge, such as a blizzard of mail around the holidays (Merriam-Webster online dictionary, 2009) . — Webster, 1882

The beautiful weather of this week drives far from us the remembrance of the blizzard. What is a blizzard, anyhow? – De Smet Leader, February 10, 1883.

A blizzard is a strong, piercing, frigid wind from the north, which, for some one to four days, blows fine particles of snow and ice. Perhaps Rev. Samuel Rogers from Marshall, Minnesota, described a blizzard best in an 1881 account:

A blizzard is a grand combination of at least half a dozen storms. It is a cyclone, a tornado, a whirlwind, a pulverized hail storm, a snow storm that comes from all parts of the compass, and from the clouds above, or, if there be no clouds, then from the drifts upon the earth. The snowflakes are whirled about and beaten against each other till the air is filled with snow-dust that is driven into ever crack and crevice of the house. Five minutes’ exposure makes one’s overcoat and cap look like the clothing of a miller. Eyes, ears and nostrils are filled. The beard becomes a frozen mat, and a well-dressed man in half an hour will look like an immense snow-ball. During such a storm, it is not safe to venture 30 feet from the chimney corner without a strong rope tied about your body and made fast to some post or beam of the house.

In a 1936 letter to daughter Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote:

The blizzards came in this way.

At first they were a black streak on the horizon around the north-west corner. As a child I always had the impression that they did actually circle a corner…

The day was usually rather warm, always clear, no clouds in sight and the sun shining brightly.

As the cloud rose the sky was overcast on the corner and when high in the sky the upper edge was lighter and the cloud seemed to roll. They always came swiftly but there was a difference in the speed and fury with which they struck, though they always came quickly enough to catch people unprepared. No one measured the speed of the wind in those days but surely it was as fast as hurricane speed. And the sun shone brightly in one part of the sky until the whole black cloud reached and blotted it out. In no sense changed to a cloudy day before the blizzard struck.

Even though the word blizzard had yet to make it into the dictionary at the time of the Little House books, people were already hotly debating the origin of the word. In 1883, Congregational Minister in De Smet, Reverend Edward Brown, wrote the editor of the De Smet Leader:

I was amused that the attempted explanation of the origin of the word “blizzard,” that it originated in the Sioux Indians pronouncing the word blistered, and on a man’s frozen face, “blizzard.” I have only to say that the writer is not less than half a century behind the times. Fifty years ago I used to hear the word in southern Ohio, among people of Virginia and Maryland origin, applied to a blustering wind. A braggadocio of a man was also called a blizzard. The memorable storm that rose in Illinois and swept through Indiana, Ohio, and down Lake Erie, rolling up great tidal waves and doing immense damage to the shipping at Buffalo, Nov. 17 and 18, 1842, was called by the people of Indiana, where I then lived, a blizzard. The word is old, and as far as this country is concerned, of southern rather than western origin. We shall doubtless have to go back to Europe for the origin of the word. Probably it came from Ireland.

During the prairie’s Hard Winter of 1880-1881, the New York Times published an article (dated March 7, 1881) stating that the word blizzard was first used in print in the 1860s to describe “a great storm,” and they challenged readers to submit earlier public use of the term.

Blizzards are storms peculiar to the plains; the air is filled with fine particles of sharp, cutting ice and snow, which are driven and whirled with blinding force by a gale of wind, often obscuring the sun and even objects but a few feet distant, the mercury at the same time standing many degrees below zero.

The Indians have learned to remain in their lodges during these storms, or, if traveling, to move with their families and ponies into some sheltered ravine, and there await the subsidence of the gale; but the inexperienced traveler, who endeavors to keep on his journey, is blinded by the fury of the blast, loses his way, and often perishes of cold and hunger.

These storms usually last three days, and then the wind dies down to a gentle breeze, the sun shines out warm and clear in a cloudless sky, and those who live in the land can come forth and look over their losses of cattle and horses, buried in snow drifts and dead from suffocation and cold, if not to mourn the loss of some too adventurous friend, who has perished by the way side. — Captain D.C. Poole, Among the Sioux of Dakota (New York: D. Van Nostrand, Publisher), 1881.


blizzard (BPC 34-37, 40-41; SSL 15, 19, 26-27; TLW 4-5, 7-18, 20-31, 33; LTP 2, 11, 15, 18, 21-23; THGY 1-3, 7, 9, 11, 13, 17, 21, 24-25; PG)
     April blizzard (SSL 27)
     blizzard wind (BPC 40; SSL 15; TLW 15, 18, 22, 26, 31; THGY 7, 25)
     “blizzard let go to spit on its hands” (PG)
     children’s blizzard (PG)
     children who froze stark stiff (BPC 34-35), see Robbins
     four days’ blizzard (TLW 28)
     October blizzard (TLW 4; LTP 2, 12; THGY 8; PG), see also The Long Winter
     Pa lost in a blizzard (BPC 40; SSL 19; TLW 9, 28; THGY 1)
     three-days’ blizzard (BPC 37, 40; TLW 9, 10, 28; LTP 22)
     two-days’ blizzard (TLW 14, 30)
     wind (PG)