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Jacksonville, IL Ice Storm, Feb 1883

The year 1883 was marked by two storms that will be long remembered. The ice storm of Feb. 5th.....

On the 3d of February a storm of unusual severity was noted approaching from the northwest. It swept down the water-shed of the Missouri river spreading from the mountains to the great lakes, increasing in intensity as it came—blocking all the northwestern railroads with snow, causing great delay of trains. The cold was intense. When the storm center had reached the region of Omaha, with its southern wing stretching far down toward the Gulf of Mexico, it made the usual curve to the east and northeast. The great whirl of winds being from right to left (against the hands of the watch) the warmer air from the region of the Gulf was drawn into the storm area, and great modification of the character of the storm resulted. Very soon after reaching this point on the 5th of the February, the snow, which prevailed in the regions west and north ceased, giving place to, first a kind of hard balled snow gradually changing to fine dry sleet and then to a mixture of sleet and rain which froze solid as fast as it fell. It froze fast to everything. Every tree became a mass of ice, every twig an icicle, many fine trees were broken down by the mass of ice.

As the storm swept on eastward it continued to be modified by the whirl of the south winds until it become a driving rain which melted down the ten or twelve inches of snow which then covered the ground in Indiana, Ohio, and Western Pennsylvania, producing the greatest floods ever known in the Ohio river. The details of this terrible flood, however, are still fresh in the mind of the reader.

Here in Jacksonville and vicinity, the storm, though damaging trees, telephone and telegraph wires, was a thing of beauty. Every tree and shrub was brilliant with ice hanging in every conceivable form. No description can do justice to the scene. This continued for nearly a week before there was sufficient thaw or wind to make the ice drop from the trees. The telephone wires of the city were nearly all broken down by the weight of the ice and that means of communication almost entirely destroyed for the time. The telegraph was in but little better condition and the railroads were blocked by the ice on the track. We are told that an engineer on the 0. & M. road found his engine blocked in Cass county. Gathering the train men to clear the rails in front of him, he found, after digging awhile, that the wheels were several feet to one side of the rails. His locomotive had actually been running on top of the crust of ice. This field of ice, however, was not of very great extent—it seems not to have been more than 100 miles across it in any direction. Jacksonville was very near its center.

Historic Morgan and Classic Jacksonville, 1885, pages 215-216

article | by Dr. Radut