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Snow days

Lubbockites recall times when city was buried

BY Doug Hensley
For the Avalanche-Journal

J.Q. Warnick remembers the first big snow of his life not because of the excitement it provided, but because of the fun he missed out on.

"It was the fall of 1939, and I was in the third grade," the retired U.S. judge magistrate said. "I don't know how much snow we received that day, but I do know I was the most disappointed boy in Lubbock, Texas. I was ill and couldn't leave the house. All I could do that day was look out at my friends and watch them playing in the snow."

Warnick, a lifelong Lubbock resident, recalled another large snowstorm during the winter of 1956. He said he had just returned to Lubbock after serving four years in the Air Force.

"It was one of the few times that (Texas) Tech was shut down," he said. "People couldn't get out and get to the grocery store. For some reason, and don't ask me why, I had tire chains. I'd been stationed at Wichita Falls for four years and didn't need them there. But I hooked those chains up and had the best time in the world taking people back and forth to the grocery store so they could stock up."

Lou Diekemper, another longtime Lubbock resident, recalled a fierce storm in the early 1940s.

"My mother was in town playing bridge, and it began snowing," she said. "She was worried to death, although we were home with a sitter, but she was worried to death about us. The snow got deep and began to drift, so my mother borrowed an expensive racehorse from a man, who I think owned the TNM&O bus company at the time.

"She rode that horse in the snow to our home. All travel by car had stopped. At that time, 19th Street was called Route 5, and it was a dirt road. When my mother got to our house, she started worrying about that expensive horse because it had started sneezing. She put it in the barn hoping nothing was wrong. That was the kind of snow that made an impression on you."

Diekemper couldn't be sure of the exact date of the storm, but National Weather Service records indicate Lubbock received 9.5 inches of snow Dec. 6, 1942, making it one of the city's top five snow days.

"Typically, we need three ingredients for a large snowstorm," said Joe Jurecka, a meteorologist with the local National Weather Service. "We need

cold air, which this time of year is usually pretty easy. The second ingredient, which we lack now, is moisture, and the third thing we need is an upper-level disturbance that tracks southwest to northeast across the area, passing right over us."

That was certainly the recipe in January 1983, when Lubbock endured the largest snowstorm in the city's history. The white stuff started coming down Jan. 20 with 5 inches recorded that day. That was merely a prelude to the next day, when another 11-plus inches fell, according to A-J articles and National Weather Service records.

What began as a snow day became a snow daze. The region was paralyzed, and cars littered the city's streets. Emergency medical service personnel used donated snowmobiles to assist citizens, and radio stations aired requests for volunteers with four-wheel drive vehicles to transport doctors, nurses and other essential medical personnel to hospitals, according to an A-J article.

"I remember they wanted to keep people off the roads," said Jody Corbett, who has lived in Lubbock since 1964. "I had a friend who had a four-wheel drive pickup, so we went around town helping people who were stranded."

Local power companies came through the storm virtually unscathed as only a few power outages were reported. Buildings weren't as lucky, though. The roof of the Texas Tech Livestock Arena, a 23,000-square-foot structure, collapsed under the weight of the snow. The building, a mere 5-years-old at the time, was one of a handful to buckle, according to The A-J. One unofficial damage estimate from the storm was $10 million.

Lubbock International Airport was closed at one point because of "high snowbanks on either side of the runway," The A-J reported, and once the storm's fury ended, the one item many people needed - snow shovels - couldn't be found within a 50-mile radius of Lubbock.

Another casualty was one of the Texas Tech football team's largest recruiting weekends. Some 31 top players from across the state were scheduled to visit that weekend, but only eight made the treacherous trek to meet head coach Jerry Moore and his staff. "Recruiting is tough enough without having to fight Mother Nature, too," Moore told the A-J at the time.

Three snow records tumbled by the time it was over. The official total of 16.2 inches of snowfall recorded at the airport was the most ever received by Lubbock during a 24-hour span. The city saw 32.1 inches fall throughout January, shattering the previous mark of 21.4 inches in November of 1980, and the 16.7 inches from a single snowstorm broke the old standard of 14.8 inches during a Feb. 2-5 storm in 1956, according to an A-J account. The only snow mark left untouched was the one-day total of 12.1 inches, which fell Feb. 20, 1961, according to the National Weather Service.

"I remember it was very dangerous driving, and they asked people to stay off the streets unless they had an emergency or something of that nature," Diekemper said. "That was also in the day before we had any real type of snow-clearing equipment. We are fortunate in this area that the sun comes out within a day or so and temperatures begin warming up."

That was the case in 1983. By the end of the weekend, the area was thawing out after experiencing a low of 11 degrees, according to The A-J.

"I remember we weren't really ready for something like that," recalled longtime Lubbock resident Monte Hasie. "I think transportation was the main problem. We didn't have problems with heat that I remember, but it took some time for us to get traffic back to normal."

Corbett said she is a fan of snow - as long as she is on the inside looking out.

"I like the beauty of the snow," she said. "It's always bothered me to see people walk across the snow and mess up a beautiful view. I like staying in and looking out."

Diekemper provided one final practical thought.

"I just wish we would get some sort of moisture - whether it's snow or rain," she said, referring to a dry spell now affecting the South Plains.

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SPECIAL SECTIONS: 1909-1933 / 1934-1958 / 1959-1983 / 1984-PRESENT | PRINT VERSION