Moffat County has long history with snow and cold
January 15, 2013
“Gone now is much of this snow, but the folks of Moffat country will be recalling January of 1949 as the time of the greatest blizzards ever to visit the section since the white man came.”
An excerpt from an article in the March 9, 1949, edition of the Craig Empire Courier.
It was cold Monday in Moffat County.
With a low temperature of -35 degrees, Craig was colder than record lows in 17 other states and was the coldest place in the United States Monday, according to a Kansas City newspaper.
As cold as it was, Monday was nothing many local residents haven’t seen before. Moffat County has a long history of battling the cold, and not always a winning one.
A story in the March 9, 1949 edition of the Empire Courier newspaper dubbed that year’s blizzard as the greatest Craig had ever seen.
"Gone now is much of this snow, but the folks of Moffat country will be recalling January of 1949 as the time of the greatest blizzards ever to visit the section since the white man came."
Moffat County resident Sylvia Beeler echoed that sentiment about storm of 1949 in a February 1979 edition of the of the Northwest Daily Press.
"Silently, relentlessly, the snow piled up," Beeler wrote.
She recalled recalled airplanes dropping food to stranded motorists and living on sardines for a few days as the only food her family had left at the motel they were staying in.
The snow brought with it not only danger for residents themselves, but also a danger for their livelihood: agriculture and livestock. The storm shut down highways in and out of Craig, cutting off the lifeline Moffat County ranchers and their several hundred thousand head of livestock relied on for feed.
Even for those lucky few who had something to feed their animals, sometimes the cold still prevailed.
According to the 1979 story, "The Unforgettable winter of 1949": "Often the cold became so severe that animals were found dead on their feet. Fish perished in deep frozen ponds. Ranchers found their sheep and cattle dead around the haystacks. Starved in the midst of plenty. The cold had taken away their desire to eat.”
Although it may have been one of the worst storms, Moffat County had yet to see its thermometer drop to what would become its record low.
Brenda Lyons recalls February 1, 1985 as being eerily cold.
"It was freezing cold, frigid,” she said. “Yesterday was nothing compared to that."
Lyons, who worked at the school district as a custodian at the time, said the schools were shut down because gas pressure was so low.
"Nobody was out unless you had to be at work," she said. "I remember having to go to the store. It was scary cold."
That day, Maybell recorded a record low for Colorado at -61 degrees, the fifth lowest temperature ever recorded in the United States.
Alaska recorded -80 degrees in 1971, Montana -69.7 degrees in 1954 — making it the coldest temperature in the 48 contiguous states — Utah -69 degrees in 1985, Wyoming -66 degrees in 1933 and Colorado -61 degrees in 1985.
Other than those instances no other state has ever recorded a temperature of below -60 degrees.
Driving through Maybell as part of his job as a traveling salesman, John Knoche remembers the record setting day as well.
Knoche said once it got to 25 below he had a hard time telling the difference between it and anything lower.
"I stopped there in Maybell to use the restroom,” he said. “Nothing was open. I remember being really concerned about my wife and kids. No matter where you are, who you are or where you live it's hard to keep houses heated in those temperatures."
Four years later, February of 1989 saw temperatures drop to nearly 51 below, causing school and administration closures as well threatening evacuations as natural gas pressures fell.
Severe weather, however, isn’t the only documented constant in Moffat County history. So, too, is the resiliency and determination of its residents to overcome it.
Darian Warden can be reached at 875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org