Snow In December Was Once A Christmas Tradition

Snow In December Was Once A Christmas Tradition

The song, written by Irving Berlin and sung by Bing Crosby, became an instant sensation and has continued on as a hallmark of each holiday season. One can’t go anywhere in December without hearing Crosby’s melodious voice singing about his dream of a snowy Christmas Day.

However, in recent years there hasn’t been much of the “white stuff” to see around the time Santa is making his rounds. In fact, just five years ago, December 25 felt a little more like Memorial Day than Christmas, with temperatures soaring past 60 degrees in some areas of the state.

That, however, has not always been the case. For decades, in fact, snow in December was the norm, not the exception. Pictures from the 19th century show winter wonderlands greeting Christmas revelers as they ventured off, in horse and buggy, to their holiday celebrations.

In the early to middle part of the 20th century, Cheshire residents were routinely forced to account for storms when planning their holidays, even if those plans involved trips that would only span a few miles.

In 1947, for instance, a blizzard formed on Christmas Day, and when it was over on December 26, more than two feet of snow had been dropped on the area. What makes the 1947 storm so unique is that there was no warning. The snow appeared and accumulated out of what seemed to be the clear blue.

According to accounts from the time, weather stations set up to try and determine when a storm of such magnitude would hit the area had failed to pick up the arriving blizzard because, unlike most storms that follow prevailing winds from west to east, this one moved in the opposite direction, avoiding detection until it was literally upon New England.

Snow drifts as high as 10 feet were reported, and 77 deaths are blamed on the blizzard itself. Finding a place for all the snow became even more difficult, and mounds of it, sometimes as high as 13 feet, could be seen on the sides of roads and blocking walkways.

In the 1950s, Cheshire continued to see its fair share of winter weather, but little on or before Christmas Day. In fact, according to the NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, only one storm — on December 3, 1957 — was deemed a “notable” winter weather event.

That changed in dramatic fashion the following decade. 

Things kicked off in early December of 1960, with a storm that lasted from the 11th through the 13th and dropped nearly a foot of snow on the region. The storm impacted as many as 13 states, and came with dangerous winds that, along the shoreline, clocked in at gusts of 90 miles per hour. 

When the blizzard finally did subside, a massive cold front moved in, chilling the area and ensuring that the snow would go nowhere.

In the hardest-hit areas, roadways were left impassable and abandoned cars littered the sides of streets. Some communities were left essentially stranded for days, with residents unable to leave and everything from emergency vehicles to important deliveries incapable of making it through. Overall, approximately 290 deaths are blamed on the 1960 storm.

For the next decade, storms would arrive in December with the frequency of children trying out for the school play. In 1961, 1963, and 1966, storms classified by the NOAA as either “notable” or “significant” — Category 1 and 2 storms — arrived in Cheshire on or just days before Christmas. None produced the type of blizzard conditions seen in 1960, but all had an impact on travel and holiday plans. And while the 1961 storm may not have debilitated Connecticut, it did other portions of the country. According to a 2012 story in the St. Joseph News-Press in Missouri, the storm that arrived in that area on Dec. 21, 1961, dropped 15 inches of snow on the region and was so bad, it forced many schools that had opened for classes the day the storm arrived to actually keep students inside school buildings until roads could be made safe. Some students who arrived for classes on a Friday didn’t arrive home until Sunday, according to the News-Press story.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but in the pages of The Cheshire Herald, not a single word was dedicated to the storms between 1961 and 1966, even though each produced what today would be considered significant snowfall totals. In fact, the only way one would know that there was snow on the ground for Christmas in Cheshire is to look at the random holiday photos scattered throughout the pages of the paper either right before or after the holiday.

A 1961 photo of the just-begun Doolittle School building, showing a metal frame on top of snow-covered ground, and a picture of Santa standing next to a fully-decorated outdoor tree in 1963 are the only hints that the town had been hunkered down during a storm.

Contrast that with today’s wall-to-wall coverage of virtually any precipitation or inclement weather, and one can appreciate just how much more common and accepted snowy weather was five decades ago.

There was, however, no avoiding the storm that arrived in 1969.

While it didn’t technically land in Connecticut until the day after Christmas, it began in Texas on December 25 and left a swath of destruction across much of the country. The storm had a little bit of everything, and none of it good. The storm caused an outbreak of tornadoes in the central portion of the country, record-setting snow accumulation on the eastern seaboard, and for much of New England, as much as three to four inches of ice fell on the area in addition to the snow, weighing down trees and power lines that led to damage that rivaled in scope what was left behind by the 1938 Hurricane.

In Cheshire, The Herald’s front page story for its Dec. 31, 1969 edition spelled out exactly how disruptive the entire episode had been:

Staring Christmas night, Cheshire dug out from under more than a foot of snow left by the season’s first big storm.

Public Works Director Fred Bens, directing a continuous 26-hour project plowed the town roads, replowed and sanded from 10 p.m. Thursday to midnight Friday. After a few hours of sleep, crews were out again Saturday at 7 a.m. to early evening, and again Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Mr. Bens said town crews cover about 110 miles of town roads, and that the state highways are cleared by state plows. He added that only two additional drivers were hired, despite several cases of winter ailments among the Public Works Department.

If the massive storm produced more headaches, delays, or cancellations, it wasn’t news enough to make the pages of that week’s Herald, although several images were printed showing just how high the drifts had gotten. 

And the 1969 storm would mark the last time a significant snow event, as classified by NOAA, would hit Cheshire in December. In fact, while plenty of winter storms impacted the area over the next 20 years, it wasn’t until December of 1990 that a “notable” holiday storm arrived in Connecticut.

Of course, 2020 provided its own parting gift last week, dumping over a foot of snow on most of Connecticut and sending us out into the cold, armed with our shovels and snowblowers. Thankfully, Connecticut’s response to such storms is more sophisticated now than it was back in the 1960s, with forecasters able to track weather patterns days in advance and give everyone ample time to prepare.

And while it still can create major inconveniences, knowing that we’ll have a “white Christmas” adds a little charm to a year that was in desperate need of it.

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