Big snow startles Puget Sound beginning on January 5, 1880.

  • By Paul Dorpat
  • Posted 9/20/2000
  • Essay 2674

On January 5, 1880, the Big Snow of 1880 begins to fall just after the territorial governor's State of the Territory report assures the world that "ice and snow are almost unknown in Washington Territory." In Port Townsend, Duke of York, a Native American acknowledged to be "the veritable oldest inhabitant in these parts," says that the snow is the heaviest in his memory.

Washington Territory Governor Elisha Ferry's report read:

"When the statement is made that ice and snow are of rare occurrence and almost unknown in Western Washington, it appears to be so incredible to those residing many degrees south of this on the Atlantic Seaboard that it makes no permanent impression on the mind."

The governor's warm report was featured front page in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's first Sunday edition for 1880. But the night before, the weather began to write its own report. The wind had blown so hard and cold that it pushed into homes "through cracks not known before to exist." That night the rain froze and the next day, Monday, January 5, the snow began to fall.

Two days later, on Thursday January 8, the paper exclaimed, "There's no telling the depth of snow a few hours ahead. We tried it and wretchedly failed. The prophecy and the actual measurements do not jibe ... We'll be safe this time and suppose this morning's snow depth at ten feet."

It was only a bit less than half of that. The Friday edition confessed that "We shall have to admit hereafter that snow does occasionally fall in this country .... The average citizen walks nowadays as though he were drunk."

And the snow, like the citizens, kept falling. Saturday the paper threatened, "If anyone has anything to say about our Italian skies ... shoot him on the spot."

More snow fell on January 11. In eight days of snowfall, 64 inches of snow made a record for a long time to come.


Paul Dorpat, Seattle Now & Then Second Edition (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1984), Story 9; J. Willis Sayre, This City of Ours (Seattle: Seattle School District No. 1, 1936), 71; Puget Sound Argus (Port Townsend), January 6, 1880, p. 4. .
Note: This file was updated on March 7, 2005.

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