Blizzards of Cortland County's Past

As Cortland County digs out after its first real snowfall of the year, parents often launch into stories about the storms of yesterday. The old adage of “When I was your age…” comes up frequently. But, which generation has the ultimate bragging rights?

Those who were around in 1914 may have a claim. On Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1914 the temperature in Cortland County suddenly dropped. The cold front brought with it nearly 36 inches of snow, with gusting winds creating drifts as high as ten feet. With limited snow plows travel was certainly difficult. Those who remember this storm are now few and far between. They may remember it fondly, however they do not get to brag that it was the worst storm in Cortland County history.

In 1961 a storm dropped 40 inches on Cortland County , only to be outdone five years later in 1966 when 45 inches fell the weekend of Feb. 1. Starting on a Sunday and lasting for several days, motorists were stuck on all major highways, including routes 81, 281 and 13. New York State workers were called in to help the county plow the roads, and drivers had to be careful of cars stuck or abandoned on the side of the road, completely buried under drifting snow. 

The Greek Peak “ski-mobile” was used to evacuate a snow-bound family near Blodgett Mills. Dryden snow plows were reported to have made two trips to assist expectant mothers in reaching Cortland Memorial Hospital .

The storm of ’66 also affected the local dairy industry. Some farmers were forced to dump their milk because milk trucks were not making pick-ups or drop-offs. According to a 1966 Cortland Standard article by Skip Chapman, the Saltest Milk Plan in Homer reported that for several days fewer than 40 of 148 producers had delivered raw milk to the plant.

While Skip was there to report on the blizzard of ’66, that is not the storm he remembers most vividly. In true “When I was your age…” fashion, Skip spoke of another blizzard on New Years Eve in 1960, when a storm barreled through Cortland County that still jogs his memory.

“I remember, because that was the first date I ever had with my wife,” Skip said. The new couple had planned an evening at the Homer American Legion’s New Year’s Party. “We went out and the weather was fine. When we came home the snow on Cayuga Street in Homer was knee deep.”

Mother Nature often focuses her attention north of Cortland in areas like Oswego and the Tug Hill Plateau. However, she took out her fury on Cortland in March of 1993 – the snowiest day in Cortland County History. According to the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University, the Blizzard of ’93 is the all-time winner, dropping 34 inches of snow in a mere 24 hours.

At this point there is no National Weather Service center in Cortland County . Stations in Cortland and Cincinnatus are no longer active, ceasing operations in 2001.

“The blizzard of ’93 just doesn’t seem to register with me,” Skip said. “Maybe because I’ve been through so many of them.”

The Blizzard of ’93 was the first true blizzard that I can remember. Growing up at Franks Corners in Virgil my brother and I jumped from the roof of our home into giant snow drifts. My father helped us dig out what seemed like a cavernous snow fort, and at times the wind would hold you up, no matter how hard you were trying to fall over.

Other storms may have eventually dropped more snow, but those 24 hours made for the snowiest day in Cortland County recorded history. Now that I am a father, I will be able to tell my son, “When I was your age…”

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Do you have a story to tell about Cortland County history? Share it with us by sending it to Jeremy Boylan, Cortland County Historian, 46 Greenbush St. , Cortland , NY   13045 , or e-mail jboylan@cortland-co.org.