The brutal winter of 1942

This November has been marked by an incredible amount of snow. While it is often erroneously said that a particular storm was ‘a record-breaker’, what we have experienced so far this winter has indeed been close to a record.

The benchmark that is often used by meteorologists is the brutal winter of 1942-1943.

The autumn had not been a great one to begin with. While temperatures had been reasonably moderate, there had been a great deal of rain, particularly in mid-September. Consequently, by November, many farmers were still struggling to get their crops harvested.

There were renewed setbacks with 2.5cm of snow falling on Oct. 23rd and an equal amount falling on Oct. 27th. Not as much snow fell in early November, but temperatures began to drop well below freezing.

A modest warm spell set in around Remembrance Day, but the relief was short lived. In the early morning of Nov. 15th, it began to rain. Around 8:30 a.m. the rain turned to snow. As the morning progressed, the snowfall became very heavy.

By mid-afternoon, there were reports of several cars getting stuck in the streets of Red Deer. Conditions worsened as a strong cold wind from the northwest blew in. The heavy snows continued on into Monday and Tuesday.

According to the weather station kept by the Fire Department next to City Hall, more than 20cm of very wet snow fell on the Sunday, with nearly 10cm more falling over the next two days. Farther north in Edmonton, an astonishing 50cm of snow fell in two days.

According to news reports at the time, the City got two small snowplows, drawn by horses, out on Monday morning to at least clear some of the sidewalks. However, the accumulations of snow were so heavy that the plows made very little progress.

Street clearing efforts were ramped up, with several trucks and hayracks being put into service to help remove the snow.

Nevertheless, 10 days later, many streets were still clogged. The City Public Works staff reported that they had many days of work ahead of them yet.

If conditions were challenging in the City, they were much worse in the country.

After a few days, several of the main roads were cleared enough that they became passable again. However, it was felt that many side roads would be more or less blocked until spring.

Some districts did not get any mail delivery for a few days, even though the mail routes were given the highest priority by the rural road crews.

Many farmers found it difficult, if not impossible, to make it into town for at least a couple of weeks, which dealt a blow to local merchants counting on an early start to the Christmas shopping rush.

Any hopes about finishing the harvest before spring were completely dashed.

Yet another consequence of the storm was a worsening coal shortage. Coal was already in short supply due to the Second World War and a reduction in the numbers of coal miners. The great blizzard made it difficult to deliver the supplies of coal that were available. As the weather began to turn very cold towards the end of November, a full- fledged ‘coal famine’ began to set in.

There was a human cost with the storm as well.

Mrs. Julia Kinna was killed on the afternoon Nov. 15th when the blinding snow caused a head-on collision between the Kinnas’ car and a truck traveling on the road near the Elspeth Hall. Lance Corporal E. Booth of the A-20 Army Camp in Red Deer was killed on Nov. 17th when the motorcycle he was operating was involved in an accident with one of the several City trucks attempting to haul the snow away.

The attempts to save Booth were hampered by the fact that it took a long time to get an ambulance to the scene of the accident.

Unfortunately, the winter of 1942-43 was only to get a lot worse.