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Corpus Christi History
By Murphy Givens

Wednesday, Jan. 27, 1999

Coldest norther in history hit 100 years ago


   No blizzard, no blue norther, has ever paralyzed Texas like the one that struck in the middle of a Saturday night 100 years ago.
    It was Feb. 13-14, 1899, when an Arctic blizzard swept down into Texas and within hours temperatures dropped to the lowest the state had ever seen. Oldtimers could not remember having ever experienced such fierce cold.
    In the Panhandle, which always gets the worst of a cold front, the temperatures plunged to 31 degrees below! at a place called Tulia. The temperatures dropped to 23 degrees below at Abilene, 16 degrees below at Denison, 11 degrees below at Dallas, and four below at San Antonio.
    The oasis of warmth in the state was at Corpus Christi, which registered a relatively balmy 11 degrees above zero. The thermometer even dropped to four degrees below zero in northern Mexico. It was stone cold everywhere. Trains were stalled across the country, causing "coal famines" in the frozen cities in the north.
    "There is great suffering," the Caller reported, "especially among the poor in New York and other large cities where the cold is the worst known in decades."
    Many were found frozen to death while others were burned to death. Pot-bellied stoves were loaded up with coal, if the occupants had it, or wood until the stoves glowed red hot. There were tragic accidents when people trying to get warm crowded in too close. In Corsicana, a 10-year-old girl burned to death when she stood too close to a hot stove and, in Alice, a woman was burned to death when her dress brushed against a stove and ignited. There were similar stories from all over.
    The Laredo Times reported that many thousands of lambs and other livestock were frozen to death on the range.
    The San Antonio Express reported that "for the first time in human memory, the San Antonio River was turned into a cake of ice of sufficient thickness to hold human weight."
    The Caller's correspondent at Alice reported that it was five degrees above zero, and the oldest inhabitant in town "was as dumb as an oyster, for this place never before experienced such frigid weather."
    At Tarpon (the name was later changed to Port Aransas), the boat harbor was frozen over. People on Sunday morning walked on the ice between the boats. Thousands of frozen fish, stunned by the cold, lined the shore. People picked out what they wanted.
    Corpus Christi, like other area towns, ran out of coal. People were forced to buy green and dry mesquite to burn in their stoves.
    According to the Caller, here is what the blizzard did around Corpus Christi:
    It killed all the cabbage (for which the area was becoming famous) and garden truck around the city.
    It killed the city's oleanders and orange trees.
    It froze meat in the market; saws had to be used to cut it.
    It froze vinegar in bottles, ink in ink stands, and blueing in the stores (breaking the bottles). It didn't, however, freeze whiskey.
    It froze the combs off chickens and froze "a bunch of goats to death back of town."
    It froze the river solid at Nuecestown. People could walk from bank to bank without fear of falling in.
    It froze Nueces Bay. The ice extended from shore to shore, the like of which no one had ever seen before.
    It froze seagulls, which fell like stones.
    It froze the saltwater in Corpus Christi Bay out past the piers. Fishing boats around the wharves were encased in ice. Boys walked out on the ice as far as the Central Wharf bathhouse (past where the L-Head is today). Nothing like it had ever been seen before.
    The editor of the Caller wrote that, "Corpus Christi takes the cake, but we prefer it without icing." That goat-killing and bay-freezing blizzard of 100 years ago was no doubt the coldest weather Corpus Christi has ever seen.

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  © 1998 Corpus Christi Caller Times, a Scripps Howard newspaper. All rights reserved.


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