Sunday, March 11, 2018

Stormy Weather

by Erin Doane, Curator

This winter, the region has been hit by wave after wave of winter storms. Elmira has been spared the worst of it (so far), but Chemung County has been hit by quite a few major snowstorms over the years.

West Water Street, 1912
On March 1, 1892, Elmira held a special charter election. The heaviest snowfall of that year arrived the same day. Despite the nearly two-feet of snow, voters came out to elect Republican Colonel David C. Robinson over Democrat Frederick Collin for mayor with an unprecedented majority. The election was considered a complete turnover for the once Democrat-led city. All the aldermen’s races were won by Republicans and both of the newly-elected justices of the peace and all the constable were also Republicans. The day after the election, the Owego Daily Record reported that “great rejoicing reigned [in Elmira] last night in the Republican ranks, horns and broom parades taking place, notwithstanding a deep fall of snow.”

Corner of Main and Water Streets, December 19, 1890
A winter storm on Valentine’s Day in 1914 dumped 24 inches of snow on Elmira. That storm held the record for the heaviest snowfall for 47 years until 1961 when 25 inches of snow fell in a single storm.

Corner of Water and Lake Streets, 1914
A lighter snowstorm of just 22 inches hit the city on January 29, 1925 and the city practically shut down. Streets were impassable to automobiles, trolleys were stalled, and trains were up to 12 hours late. As many as 3,000 visitors from out of town were stranded in the city. Schools and businesses were closed as 150 public works employees labored through the night clearing truckloads of snow from the streets. Several horseback riders were seen on the streets that day, enjoying the lack of automobiles.

Three years later, on March 19, 1928, the biggest single snowfall of the season brought only 10 inches of snow to the city. The storm did not cause any notable travel problems but the cleanup provided temporary employment for more than 200 men throughout the county.

Water and Main Streets, c. 1930s
A major storm in mid-January 1958 closed schools and canceled flights at the county airport. Two snow loaders, 14 trucks, six plows, and four graders were used to clear the city streets. 
Snow loader on Main Street near 
Second Street, January 26, 1958
The 1960s saw two major winter storms hit the area. The storm on February 3-4, 1961 broke the longstanding record set in 1914 of the most snow dropped on the city in a single storm. Elmira saw 25 inches of snow while the entire region was blanketed in 14 to 32 inches of snow. Buses and trains were hours late and the airport closed. Schools and businesses also closed and most events were canceled. Harris Hill’s ski slopes were even closed because of the storm.

On January 30, 1966, only eight inches of snow fell but high winds with gusts up to 45 miles per hour blew it into drifts up to 14 feet deep in some places in Southport and VanEtten. Roads and highways, schools, offices, and retail stores were all closed. Factory assembly lines were shut down and garbage pickup was postponed in the city. The high winds tore tv antennas off of houses and made the 15 degree temperatures feel much colder.

Water Street, January 20, 1978
The Blizzard of ’78 blanketed much of the northeast
in thick snow. Elmira received 19 ¼ inches.
A late-season storm on March 29, 1984 dumped 14 inches of snow. Elmira declared a state of emergency and ordered cars to be removed from city streets. Chemung, Schuyler, and Tioga counties put travel restrictions into effect. The Elmira-Corning Regional Airport canceled flights and the Arnot Mall closed because crews were overwhelmed by the amount of snow in the parking lot. The heavy snow took down trees and power lines leaving as many as 4,000 customers in Chemung County were without power.

Winter snows will continue to fall no matter how inconvenient it is for people. Here’s hoping for an early spring!

Shoveling snow, 1978

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