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March 5, 2013

Aggravated by snow? It could be worse

OTTUMWA — While southeast Iowa only got sideswiped by the most recent snowstorm (though a number of schools did cancel classes), that wasn't the case 54 years ago.

A major March snowstorm slammed into the state March 4-6 in 1959. The storm effectively shut down the state as it dumped more than a foot of snow on many areas. The blizzard is recorded as being responsible for 19 deaths.

Here's the National Weather Service's account from their "On this day in Iowa weather history:"

1959: A record breaking snow storm on March 4-6 began with light snow in western Iowa on the morning of the 4th then spread across the state and intensified with heavy snow falling from the night of the 4th, through the 5th, and into early morning on the 6th in eastern Iowa. The amount of snowfall and its subsequent effects were less severe in western Iowa and grew progressively worse moving eastward. In central Iowa snowfall amounts were generally 6 to 10 inches, while in eastern Iowa a swath of about 12 to 20 inches of snow fell roughly from Appanoose County through Tama County and northeast to Allamakee County. Reported storm total snowfall amounts included 12.9 inches at Waterloo, 14.5 inches at Decorah, 16.0 inches at Oelwein, 17.0 inches at Oskaloosa, 17.6 inches at Dubuque, 19.8 inches at Marshalltown where 17.8 inches fell in just 24 hours, and 22.0 inches at Fayette where 21.0 inches fell in just 24 hours. Winds strengthened steadily during the course of the storm with speeds reaching 30 to 50 mph at times and causing extensive blowing and drifting of snow. Drifts 6 to 10 feet deep were common and in northeastern Iowa a few locations reported drifts 15 to 20 feet deep. All transportation and traffic came to a halt and stranded cars were in some cases completely covered by drifting snow. Most stalled and stranded vehicles were abandoned until the storm ended, including an estimated 20,000 vehicles in Des Moines alone where only 9.4 inches of snow fell. Businesses and schools were closed across most of the state and in some cases school buses stalled stranding dozens of children. One farm family near Vinton sheltered and fed 63 marooned students until the storm abated. Near Plano a baby was born to a woman stranded in her vehicle. There were 19 deaths attributed to the storm along with dozens of injuries.

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