The Memorable Snow Storm of 1882

(Anaheim Gazette, January 14, 1882)

            “What is snow, grandpa?”

            “Snow, my dear, is watery particles congealed into white or transparent crystals, or flakes, in the air. That’s plain, ain’t it, my child.”

            “Did it ever snow here, grandpa?”

            “Well, I should smile. (You will excuse the slang, my dear.) Away back in 1882 there was a big snow storm. Ah, it was a terrible day!”

            “Oh, do tell me about it, grandpa.”

            “All right. But first, like a good little girl, summon a messenger boy by telephone and have him take this letter to 239 West Eighty-fourth Street. (It was called Orangethorpe when I was a young man.)

            “Well, you see, the snow storm which you want me to tell you about began on the morning of the 12th day of January, 1882. It capped the climax of a season as remarkable as any which the annals of the country tell about. Wise people, or people who thought themselves wise, attributed the phenomenal weather to the fact that four comets had been visible the previous year. Comets, my dear, are big things with tails that go sloshing about in the sky. But whatever the cause, the winter of 1881-82 was, up to the morning mentioned, one of the most unsatisfactory seasons ever experienced. There had been no rain to speak of. The previous year had been one of partial drouth, and the earth was all the more in need of moisture. And what made it all the more exasperating was that the signs by which the weather-wise prognosticated rain were abundant. The fog hung low in the mountains, the sun rose angrily red in the morning and set at night in a bank of clouds; there were more rings around the moon than you could shake a stick at, and the old women’s bones ached as they always did before rain. But these signs all failed; the rain fell not; the seed which had been planted failed to sprout; the sheep began to suffer for food and owners of flocks were preparing to take them to countries where grass was more abundant. Farmers were despondent, and, under the prevalent feeling that the year was to be a dry one, purse-strings were drawn tight, enterprises were temporarily abandoned, and everybody had made up their minds to make the best of the inevitable. Such was the condition of affairs on the night of the 11th of January, 1882. And now, my dear, if you will tell John to get on the street car and god out and get that package that I left at the woolen factory on Buena Vista street (it was called Placentia in the days I have been telling you about, my dear), I will continue with my story.

            “I remember when your grandmother got up that Thursday morning and looked out of the window that he exclamations and look of surprise were really too funny for anything. The air was filled with fast-falling snowflakes, but she didn’t know it was snow until I told her, for she had never seen any before. So it was with many big men and women, who had either been born in the southern part of California or had come here while in their infancy. A bitter cold East wind blew all day…. The little linnets died in great numbers from cold and fright, and fell easy victims to the predatory cats whom hunger compelled to be abroad and alert for victuals. My horse ate his grain in a subdued way, and appeared very much frightened at the glace I gave him of the white ground and falling snow. Even things inanimate seemed to appeal to one for an explanation of the phenomenal weather. The tender shoots on the orange trees shriveled up, and it required no great stretch of the imagination to see in the pinched and drawn-up leaves of all plants an appeal to know what it was all about, and when it was going to stop.

            “The snow continued falling all that day, at short intervals, but it was not until late in the afternoon that the temperature fell low enough to allow the snow to lie on the ground unmelted. Then, indeed, it was a rare sigh, and one which your little bright eyes will probably never see. All the vineyards, streets and commons were covered with a snowy mantle. The ground opposite the school house, on which the marble front building of the Academy of Sciences stands (it was then a vacant spot where the boys used to play base ball, my dear), was a beautiful sight that night as I crossed it; but I didn’t stop long to admire it as the love of comfort was more developed in me than the love of the beautiful. The wind howled and shrieked with great fury, but, like some dogs, made a horrible noise without doing much damage. Orange trees suffered the most. A great deal of fruit was blown off, and the trees themselves were in many instances blown down. A few outhouses and fences succumbed to the force of the wind and very few windmills were in their accustomed places on Friday morning. But, considering the fury of the wind, the damage done was not worth mentioning. It was so stated in the Gazette at the time, and the editor had the reputation of being the only truthful newspaper man in the whole southern part of the State. He now lives in that brown stone house on Nob Hill, my dear, and cuts coupons off Government bonds for a living. Such is the reward of truthfulness, my dear, and don’t you forget it.

            “The next morning – that is, the morning of the 13th of January, the wind had moderated somewhat but it was very cold. The snow lay quite thick on the foothills east of town, and the wind which blew from that direction made one’s face tingle. On that day, too, word came in that many sheep had died from exposure the night previous; and it is a selfish characteristic of human nature, my dear, that while everybody was considering the poor sheep, nobody had a word of condolence for the poor sheepherder. But though the day was cold, no snow fell, and everybody united in saying that if the temperature would get a little warmer there would be a copious rainfall.”

            “And did it get warmer and rain, grandpa?”

            “There, there, my child, you ask too many questions. Be a good little girl, and I will tell you the rest of the story some other time. And now, help me on with my overcoat, for I must go and attend a meeting of the Anaheim Viticultural Association in the big pavilion on Seventh Avenue (it used to be the Chinese quarters in 1882) and you go to bed, my child, and dream that it rained and made feed for the poor little sheep, ripened the farmers’ barley and made the vines grow such big crops that the vineyardists didn’t know what to do with all their money.”

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 (Anaheim Gazette, January 21, 1882)

The Gazette went to press last week before any news was received from other points regarding the unprecedented storm, and hence its remarks were necessarily confined to the occurrences in this immediate locality. But the “norther” ranged from Siskiyou to San Diego, and, in total disregard of the usual order of things, it seemed to rage with the greatest fury in the southern part of the State. It was one of those climatic surprises which seem original with California, and not in this generation may such a freak be again witnessed.

The fear that the young wood on the orange trees would die from the effects of cold has not been realized. No one could tell, from the appearance of the trees, that aught out of the common had happened. The tender leaves, which while the cold blasts were blowing assumed a yellow and withered look, have resumed their wonted appearance and are not one whit the worse for their short acquaintance with the beautiful snow. But the furious gusts of wind almost denuded the trees of their fruit, and herein was the greatest damage. The oranges were just at that period of ripeness when they are most easily detached, and as a consequence the orchards throughout the county were literally paved with oranges on the morning after the storm.

Few orange trees were blown down, but the same can not be said of lemon trees. The havoc among the latter was great. They differ from the orange tree in being less firmly rooted, more brittle and having a larger foliage for the wind to take hold of. Hence, many trees were broken or uprooted. This is the experience of all sections of the county.

Mr. E.S. Saxton informs us that neither the flat-peach trees in bloom in his garden, nor the orange blossoms in his young orchard seem to have been at all affected by the cold. The same is true of all the orchards in this vicinity.

But the strangest and most unnatural circumstance of all was the choking of the Anaheim ditch by the snow. The most vivid imagination and greatest foresight would never have ventured to predict that among the difficulties attending the management of irrigating ditches in Southern California would be the stopping of the water by a gorge of snow. But it so happened. There were three large heads of water flowing in the ditch on Thursday, and it came uninterruptedly until about Friday noon. It then stopped, and on the Zanjero proceeding to investigate, he found a snow blockade in the ditch about a mile east of town. The snow had floated down the ditch in large balls, the water being too cold to melt it, and so rapidly did it accumulate that before the water could be shut off nearly two miles of ditch was filled up with the hardened snow. The blockade continued from Friday until Monday, at which time the snow had melted sufficiently to permit the water to flow. The Cajon ditch and the Orange ditch had a similar experience, and it is said that a break of some magnitude occurred in the latter ditch in consequence….

The Methodist Church at Orange was blown from its foundation….

Snow lay on level ground to a depth of two feet at Silverado, and in some of the ravines it reached a depth of six feet….

[It did not snow again in the lowlands of Orange County until 1949 . . . I hope to live to see it snow at least once in my lifetime. -- P.B.]