Thirty-five years have wrought many changes in the climate of Becker County, especially as it relates to the winter season.
During the early seventies, and again during the early eighties a mild winter such as we now usually enjoy, was a rare exception.
In the fall of 1870 there was no frost until the 13th of October. The first snow fell on the 20th of October which remained only a day and followed by an open winter.
The summer of 1871 was the dryest in the history of the county, except perhaps that of 1894.
The four succeeding winters were long and hard, all of them setting in between the 1st and 10th of November, with scarcely a thaw until the 5th of April, and the snow which was frequently between three and four feet in depth lingered until the middle of that month, and the ice holding in the lakes until the 1st of May.
The worst storm of this winter of storms was the memorable 7th of January storm, which for length and severity outranks any storm that has ever visited Becker County at any season of the year. It commenced about noon on the 7th of January, 1873, and raged for more that fifty hours, extending all over Minnesota and Dakota. When the storm began I was eating dinner at the house of Ole E. Bjorge, the father of Hon. Henry O. Bjorge, on Section 8, township of Lake Park. The fornoon had been mild and warm, so much so that the snow began to melt, while the wind was blowing gently from the southeast. After dinner I left the house and started for the railroad station at Lake Park. The wind was still from the southeast, but it increased in velocity to a gale, when all at once it whirled around to the northwest and came down over the prairies with the force of a tornado. It was all I could do to keep on my feet, and I was just barley able to get back to the house I had left a few minutes before. It also became intensely cold. The house was built in a small grove of oak timber and the roaring of the wind among the trees was so loud that we could scarcely hear one another talk. Henry O. was then only two years old and just beginning to talk a little Norsk. I remember that he and I kept pretty close to a little corner behind a cook stove during the storm. The next day after noon, I stapped on my snow shoes and started for Lake Park, but as soon as I got away from the shelter of the grove, I found I could not stand up and I was obliged to go back to the house. I tried it again on the moring of the third day, but with the same result. After dinner the wind began to abate but was still blowing a gale, and I tried it a third time, this time with the wind nearly square in my back and the snow packed good and hard, I managed to reach the station.
A passenger train had been detained there during all the storm in charge of George Dow. The first trio of conductors on the Northern Pacific Railroad were Captain Spaulding, George W. Sweetmen, and George Dow. Dow is still running a passenger train on the Winnipeg branch. The snow was now nearly three feet deep, a foot having fallen during the storm, but the extreme force of the wind had packed it down so hard that the next day I walked from Lake Park to Section 30 in the township of Atlanta and back over the prairies without snowshoes, a distance of eighteen miles. There were several other blizzards that winter nearly as severe as this one, but they were of comparatively short duration. There were no lives lost in Becker County although there were several narrow escapes. Stengrum Nelson and old John Sullivan, of Cuba came near perishing in the storm. Two men lost their lives in Clay County, and more than sevely lives were lost in Minnesota during the big storm. After these four winters came four winters more of a mild character, especially the winter of 1877 and 1878. The summer of 1877 was very favorable one for crops, the temperature and moisture being all that could be asked for, resulting in a boutiful harvest. A few inches of snow fell early in November, but after a few days disappeared, when an Indian summer set in, which wth very slight interruptions lasted all winter. Much of the time it scarcely froze at night, and plowing, with a few interruptions was carried on every month during the entire winter. Pansies were in blossom in the gardens and dooryards on Christmas day, and the prairies were bedecked with flowering anemones on the 24th of March, and they had come to stay. The northwestern skies were illuninated by prairie fires nearly every night, the grass in Atlanta and Walworth burning nearly the entire winter.
We now come to a succession of long, hard winters, beginning with that of 1879 and '80, and ending with that of 1883 and '84. The winter of 1880 and '81 was exceptionally long and severe. A snow-storm began on the 15th of October, which lasted for twenty-four hours, during which time the snow fell to the depth of fifteen inches. The street in the village of Detroit, on the south side of where Hotel Minnesota now stands was filled its whole width even with the tops of the board fences that stood on each side of the street. The worst of all was, the snow had come to stay, a large part of it remaining until the very last of the ensuing April.
1880 was the first year of the settlement of the Shell Prairie county, and many of the new settlers were caught in this October storm with no other shelter than their tents and wagon covers, and much suffering followed as a result of the storm. Snow fell later on to the depth of three and a half feet. It thawed a little early in April, then froze up again. I walked from Detroit up to the north end of Floyd Lake, a distance of five miles, on two feet of hard snow on the 20th day of April. This was the longest winter by nearly a month of any on record.
During that winter I was engaged in examining the Northern Pacific Railroad land in the timbered country around the southern, eastern, and northern borders of the Shell Prairie country, sleeping in a tent at night, and walking on snowshoes during the day.
The October snows had bent the tops of the young jack pines over and fastened them to the ground, in which position they remained, like so many arches, until the ensuing spring. Charlie Sturtevant was with me during this terrible winter.
The winter of 1887 and 1888 set in on the 17th of November. The snow was deep and the weather cold and stormy. It was during this winter that nearly one hundred people froze to death in Dakota. Then came four very mild and short winters, followed by cold weather and deep snow in the winter of 1892 and '93. The next four winters were mild and comparatively short.
The summers during this long series of years were generally favorable, up to that of 1894. This wa the year of the disastrous Hinckley fire, and a year long to be remembered in Becker County. Its numerous lakes and ponds, however, saved it from any widespread devastation.
The winter of 1896 and '97 was long and cold, and a greater dept of snow fell than during any other winter in the history of the county.
On the first of March it lay in the woods four and a half feet deep on the level. It began to thaw on the 18th of March and in ten days it had about all disappeared. This was the spring of high water and disastrous floods on the Red River of the North, and the lower Mississippi.
Since that time our winters have been very mild, with about a foot of snow, except in the winter of 1903 and '04, which was pretty cold. The winter of 1906 and '07, however, is liable to break all records.
The earliest snowfall on record was taht of 1872, when four or more inches of snow fell, beginning on the night of the 24th of September and again on the 27th of September, 1899, there was a light fall of snow. The summers of 1904, 1905 and 1906 were exceedingly wet.