COBWEB CORNERS: Big snows in 1899 started in January
By Mel McFarland
A year of heavy snowfall came to be known as the Winter of '99. That is 1899, not 1999! It didn't started until January. The major impact was to the west, but the storms blew over this area too. Daily snows of up to two feet were pretty common by the first of February. Ute Pass was turning into a major pain! Remember, back then it was still a rough wagon road.
The snow even dumped on the farmlands east of the mountains. By the middle of February, the railroads were about the only way to travel more than a few miles, and even they were starting to close down in the huge piles of white. Newspapers claimed it was the worst storm in 20 years! Little did they know that it was just getting started.
In early March the coldest of the temperatures eased. The snow depth was still increasing daily. The worst if it was way up in the mountains, along the Continental Divide. The railroads, fighting hard to keep running, were seeing 20-foot spots! Leadville recorded snow at five to six feet deep. Cripple Creek was not far behind Leadville. Down at Palmer Lake it was just four feet!
By April all of the rail lines in the mountains were closed. Help had been brought from as far as Chicago to clear snow. The drifts in Aspen were over 20 feet! There were no ski areas, any attempt to get there was impossible anyway. Shops in most of the mountain towns were having trouble with snow breaking their front windows as people were now coming in through second-floor windows.
The storm finally eased off through April, which caused more problems. The warm weather melted the snow quickly. During the day, water ran in the streets. Now it was impossible to use any of the roads because of the water. The rivers were bursting their banks as small streams turned into rivers. Out in South Park there were new lakes, which by mid-summer would be gone because it was a dry summer.
Winter storms can play silly games in this area. Someday I'll tell you about the storm of 1913, which caused huge problems here, but not the rest of the state.