1966: Savage Snowstorm, laced with lightning and high winds, chokes roads in massive drifts

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

(Editor's note: Plymouth County could get as much as a foot of snow by Wednesday evening. Still the effect is not likely to be as devastating as the blizzard of 1966.)

The spring-like weather Le Mars was having during March of 1966 disappeared on Tuesday, March 22. The bleak, cold day of rain transformed into a raging snowstorm.

The Wednesday, March 23, 1966, issue of the Le Mars Daily Sentinel described the start of a great blizzard that buried Plymouth County in snow as deep as 6 1/2 inches.

"Tuesday's rain, sleet, and lightning turned to heavy snow and northwest winds that gusted up to 60 miles an hour by nightfall...

"By Wednesday, all Le Mars and county schools were closed, many business places remained locked up and roads were clogged with huge drifts."

Under those conditions, people tended to huddle in their homes, which turned dark and cold from frequent power outages.

According to an article in the March 23 issue of the Daily Sentinel, electric power flickered on and off for more than 16 hours. The first outage occurred around 5:42 p.m. Wednesday.

The outage was a problem for most people, but for Clayton Nemmers, then a Le Mars dealer for Wincharger generators, the outage was a way to test out his product.

Nemmers kept his house warm and full of light with the portable generator he had on his Nemmers Industries truck, but not everyone appreciated his opportunity to advertise.

"One neighbor complained that it was bad enough to see the lights inside, 'but did you have to turn on the outside floodlights that one time too?'" said Nemmers.

Jack Hardie, then the Iowa Public Service Co. area manager, in an article published on March 23, described the difficulty of getting the power going again.

"The next one that went out was to the west near Brunsville," said Hardie. "A crew went out there, but the wind was so strong the men could hardly stand up, let alone even thinking of climbing poles."

Despite the power problems, Hardie had said there was not excessive damage to the power lines.

"There was a minimum of damage in Le Mars because during January and February we had conducted an extensive tree trimming operation," said Hardie. "It's tree branches blowing down on wires that cause big trouble, and the Le Mars program really paid off."

Even though branches were not snapping on power lines, telephone poles were snapping "like matchsticks" across the county. Rueben Smith, was the district engineer for Central Telephone Co. in Le Mars, in the March 24 issue of the Daily Sentinel, said "at least 1,000 telephone poles were snapped off by high winds in the entire area Tuesday night and Wednesday morning."

The snapped poles limited telephone communication, which made it hard for stranded travelers to reach their loved ones.

The "sidelights" sections in the March 23, 24, and 25 issues of the Daily Sentinel were filled with stories of accidents, deaths, and people opening their homes to travelers during the blizzard.

One story was told of a young man who slept in his car through the storm. In the thick of the blizzard, 19-year-old Don Marx, son of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Marx, was driving home to Le Mars from his job in Cherokee.

According to the Daily Sentinel article, "he got as far west as the Remsen cemetery corner. He couldn't see the paving, so he turned off the highway and landed in a ditch two miles south of the corner. He didn't realize he was off the highway."

Marx eventually turned off his car in fear of the fumes. He then wrapped up in a blanket and fell asleep, despite the snow blowing into his car.

When he awoke the next morning, he found his car door was frozen shut, so he climbed out his window and walked to the nearby Alf Pick farm, where he was given shelter and warm clothing. Due to the power outage, he couldn't send word to his parents until late Wednesday.

Many Le Mars residents opened their homes to the 77 members of the Drake University band who were stranded in Le Mars. The band was scheduled to perform at Carey gymnasium.

According to the Daily Sentinel issue for March 23, the "savage snowstorm, laced with lightning" struck a garage, causing it to burst into flames in the height of the blizzard.

The same issue featured pictures showing snow-laden tracks resembling a barren Siberian railroad, "cars buried in ice and snowdrifts," and trees damaged by the ice and high winds.

In the days following the blizzard, pictures showed trucks trying to plow through drifts and people digging through the deep snow.

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