Record colds usually come in February, including the 1895 Valentine's Blizzard
Last updated 1/3/2023 at 7:49pm
As dawn broke the morning of Friday, December 23, the temperatures in Orange County had dropped to 17 degrees with 15 mph north winds and gusts even higher. The wind chill dropped to 2 degrees.
A few days later, the temperatures were in the 70s. But local residents shouldn't ditch their warm clothes and unwrap their pipes. Historically, the worst freezes have hit in mid-February, most particularly around Valentine's Day. That includes the long, hard freeze of February 2021.
The worst freezes came more than a century ago, with the Valentine's Blizzard of 1895 dropping more than two feet of snow with drifts reported at more than five feet. Then in 1899, a hard freeze froze over Sabine Lake enough where the Dutch settlers in what became Nederland used their ice skates on the lake.
Even the big snow of 1960, which brought 10 inches of the white stuff, began on February 12 and left the county still covered and frozen on Valentines Day.
The 1895 Blizzard began on Valentine's Day and continued through February 15 described by the Texas Almanac as "what is probably the greatest heavy-snow anomaly in the climatic history of the U.S. resulted from a snowstorm along the Texas coast." Brownsville on the Mexican border even had five inches of snow.
The U.S. Weather Service reports that Orange had 20 inches of snow fall at that time. However, the late Historian W.T. Block wrote that up to 31 inches fell in places across Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana, paralyzing the area. People depended on horses for travel and the drifts were so deep even the horses couldn't get out.
Block found a story in The Galveston Daily News about how the locomotive in the switching yards in Orange "could not plow its way through the snow that averaged 24 inches on top of the rails...In some places, snow drifted to a depth of six feet and effectively blocked traffic at every (lumber) mill along the river." According to Block's story, the estimated depth of the snow was between 30 and 36 inches based on how far the snow reached up the locomotive.
He imagined "every pot-bellied stove glowed a cherry red as each person sought to ward off the bitter cold.' He pointed out that firewood would not have been a problem because sawmills had large amounts of waste-wood products that people could get for free." However, wood wasn't the only fuel for those stoves. Advertisements in the local newspaper during that time also had coal-burning stoves for sale, along with pounds of coal.
The Orange Leader in the February 12, 1960, edition reporting the snow that year included a story about how it was worse in 1895. In the story, 79-year-old Lillie Warren of Bridge City recalled 28 inches of snow in front of the house of B.C. Turner in Prairie View, the settlement that later became Bridge City.
The 19th Century Orange County residents may have thought they were cold in 1895, but more was in store. Four years later, in February 1899, another cold front came through with not as much snow, but catastrophic freezing temperatures.
The Texas Almanac reports that on Feb. 11-13 that year "a disastrous cold wave went throughout the state. Newspapers described it as the worst freeze ever known in the state."
The temperature in Southeast Texas was around 8 degrees Fahrenheit for almost three days. It was so cold that Sabine Lake froze over. Block wrote that the new Dutch immigrants took their ice skates to the lake and skated.
The historian found a Galveston Daily News story that reported "large quantities of fine ocean trout were picked up on the beach Tuesday and Wednesday. They had become helplessly benumbed in the cold waters, and were soon washed ashore by the beach tides, where they quickly froze."
The speckled trout were reported to weigh from three to nine pounds each. Block said that in Sabine Pass, residents were shoveling the fish into wagons.
However, a few Orange residents were more worried about surviving than shoveling fish into their rescue wagon.
Rachael Parker has a clipping from the Orange newspaper that her grandmother saved. The story is about Joe Weaver and a few friends taking a sail boat out on Sabine Lake on Friday, February 11, 1899, for a hunting trip. They planned to return to town on Saturday.
They were experienced hunters and fishermen, but weather forecasting wasn't as accurate in those days. And they may have simply ignored the reports of a bad front moving into the area.
The hunting party anchored near the Catron shell bank on the north side of Sabine Lake and walked onshore to hunt and camp. When they returned to the spot on Saturday, the north winds had blown the water out so far the sail boat was in mud yards from the shoreline.
"They were forced to spend the night on the barren shell bank and, in consequence, came very near freezing to death," the paper reported.
Thank goodness, they were saved. "George Livingston, brother-in-law of young Weaver, became alarmed at the non-appearance of the hunting party and Sunday morning he loaded a light wagon with warm robes, quilts and restoratives and started out in search of them. He found them on the shell bank and wrapped each one."
Fortunately, they survived, but the story gave no details on how they kept from freezing to death.