Yes, yes, I know. Blizzards come when warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico collides with arctic air plunging down from Canada and with wind surging off Lake Superior, and they all converge over my house in West Duluth.
I speak of the term "blizzard." How did we come to call a particularly bad snowstorm by that name?
It comes from my hometown: Estherville, Iowa.
Proof is from the Des Moines Register, which used to be the newspaper Iowa depends upon. Here’s the story, as told in the Feb. 18, 1978, edition of the Register:
Lephe Wells Coates, the wife of Rev. Romanzao A. Coates of Spencer (Iowa), taught several children, including those of Esther Ridley — the Esther for whom Estherville was named.
In 1868 Mrs. Coates read in a Free Baptist newspaper about an ill-tempered man named Mr. Blizzard, who was so mean he once drove his wife and children from their home because he did not get hot bread for supper.
One day during a snowstorm, Mrs. Coates mentioned that "This is a regular Old Man Blizzard of a storm."
The analogy became a family joke and the word was carried to Estherville by the Ridley children.
One day in 1870 a snowstorm was raging across Iowa when a man came into the office of George Nichols, editor of the Estherville Northern Vindicator.
Brushing snow from his clothing, the man remarked, "It’s really a bad storm outside. It’s a regular blizzard."
Nichols apparently liked the word and commented on it in his newspaper. The story was picked up by other papers and today the word blizzard is as common as the storm it’s named after.
So there you have it. What, you thought the storm was named after a Dairy Queen treat?
Two more comments:
- No such thing as the Estherville Northern Vindicator has existed during my lifetime. Too bad — it’s a great name for a newspaper.
- The juncos that have stuck around my place are having a tough time with this blizzard. They resorted to finding food on the platform feeder, which juncos are loathe to do. I scooped off a patch of the deck twice before I came to work, and scattered some millet on the clean patch each time, but it didn’t stay clean for long. I sprinkled a little millet in the platform feeder, but not much. I’m running out of millet, and I’m probably not going to be able to get to the millet store until Wednesday. I never thought the juncos would stay around this long.