Seventy-three years ago on this very day, the people of Titusville and the surrounding areas were talking about the same thing we have all been talking about in hushed whispers today, hoping it will pass us by: SNOW.
On Monday, December 11th, 1944 Northwestern Pennsylvania was hit by an enormous snowstorm that had already been pummeling the rest of the country for days. The day before, the storm hit the Midwest, killing eleven people initially and twenty-five people in total. Airports were clogged, flights were cancelled, and cars were stranded while inch after inch of snow blanketed the entire United States. The storm crept ever eastward, setting its sights on the Great Lakes.
By the time the storm hit the Oil Region, there were already six inches of snow on the ground. With a cold blast from Canada mixed with moist air blowing in from the South, the storm reared its head over the region and dumped more than twenty-six inches of snow over twenty-four hours.
The next day, the Titusville Herald reported the toll the storm took on the area. The nationwide storm, coupled with our perennial lake effect snow, ground transportation to a halt across Western Pennsylvania. Deer hunters were stranded in their camps and the woods. In Pittsburgh, streetcar, bus, and car traffic “was almost at a standstill, leaving thousands of Christmas shoppers stranded downtown, preventing office employees and war workers from reaching their homes.” Due to World War II being fought across the globe simultaneously, gas rationing made it so that stranded cars were abandoned, since no gas could be found to move them along.
Titusville Sheriff Harry B. Smith was interviewed by the paper about the scope of the storm, explaining that it took him one hour and forty minutes to reach Titusville from Meadville. Smith had to stop along the way to put chains on his tires and get around cars stranded on the road.
By Wednesday, the snow stopped falling, but the wind began. High wind gusts “turned slush-filled city streets into hard ridges of ice,” wrote the Herald, noting that gales reached up to seventy-three miles per hour!
Titusville’s rural outlying areas were struck the hardest by this vicious storm. Residents could not make it any further north than Riceville and were without mail and milk for days. Hunters bemoaned that deer season was a wash, unable to trudge through the snow in forest and field. Just as plows cleared roads, wind whipped snow to fill the void, leaving residents no better off than before. The national death toll had climbed to eighty-seven people by December 14th and by the 15th, sixteen of the dead were residents of Northwestern Pennsylvania.
In the midst of all this snowy chaos, Mrs. Frederick Bloom was having a slight problem. More aptly, she was having a baby. Mrs. Bloom of North Dillon Drive was penned in by snow and could not make it to the hospital alone. Four men came to her aid, lifting her onto a chair and carrying her through the snow until they reached a car which took her safely to the hospital. Mrs. Bloom gave birth to a baby girl only fifty-eight minutes after reaching the hospital.
While the snow began to melt, and services returned to normal, Christmas was definitely a white one in the Oil Region in 1944. The snow started up again the weekend before, and Christmas Day proved to be quite snowy and icy. Temperatures clocked in at zero or below and residents reported a drive time of three hours to Erie to visit relatives.
Though the snow continued to fall and the streets were covered in slush, I am happy to report that business as usual continued in Titusville, despite the storm. Goldstein’s Dry Goods was having their famous 25% off after-Christmas sale…with a special on snowsuits.
We don’t yet know how the snowstorm of December 11th, 2017 is going to turn out, but be careful out there, Titusville! And from NWPA Stories, we’ll see you next year.