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Seattle's ultimate jinx: The 5-foot snowstorm that hit in January, 1880

Over five feet of snow fell on Seattle in early January 1880. The city wasn't used to such heavy snow. Schools closed, trains didn't run, and the city's activities ground to a halt. This photo was taken on January 10th, 1880 after the great snow. It shows the view up Cherry Street from First Avenue towards First Hill. (Photo 1983.10.6267 // PEMCO Webster & Stevens Collection, Museum of History & Industry, Seattle)

SEATTLE -- The lesson of the day: Never taunt Mother Nature...

In January of 1880, Washington Territory Governor Elisha Ferry made a bold statement during his "State of the Territory" report (remember, Washington would not become a state until nine years later) assuring the world that "ice and snow are almost unknown in Washington Territory," according to research done by local historian Paul Dorpat, as published in Historylink.org.

The report would run in the Seattle P-I that Sunday, January 4th -- already when strong winds had begun to blow, Dorpat wrote. It would freeze that Sunday night, and then on Monday, the snow began to fall.

And fall. And fall...

Snow forecasting in modern day times around Seattle is quite the challenge, and that's with super computers, high tech satellites, and the internet. Back then when there was hardly any weather data to be had, you were at the mercy of educated guessing. So imagine their surprise when it would snow for eight days straight.

"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,' " Dorpat wrote.

Ten feet, eh? (By the way, I'm so using the phrase "The prophecy and the actual measurements do not jibe" the next time a snow forecast busts around here...)

Dorpat says it was actually "only" a little less than 5 feet by then, and already Seattleites were waving the white flag.

"We shall have to admit hereafter that snow does occasionally fall in this country .... The average citizen walks nowadays as though he were drunk," Dorpat quoted the P-I.

Snow continued through that following weekend, making an eight day snowfall total of 64 inches of snow. It would stand -- and still stands -- as among the greatest snowstorms in Seattle history, probably only closely rivaled by the 21.5" of one-day snow during the blizzard of Feb. 1916 and the month-long arctic outbreak of January 1950.

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