Snowstorms in Anacortes
We live in a lucky part of the world. Anacortes residents get to enjoy what is, for the most part, a temperate environment. It rarely gets too hot or cold. Survival of the seasons here equates to little more than a coat change from one season to the next. With that in mind, when the weather does get crazy, we are often not as prepared as we should be. Over the years, Anacortes has had its share of hard winters, ones that our comfortable community has embraced and resented.
The Early Years:
Much of the following information about Anacortes’ earliest snowstorms comes from former County Commissioner, E. A. Sisson. Starting in 1873, and for a period of 43 years, Sisson recorded every instance in which the Anacortes temperature fell below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of Anacortes’ coldest days are recorded in his log, as well as information on some of the area’s heaviest snows.
(E.A. Sisson’s temperature chart – 1916)
1880: The first big snow on record took place on January 6-7, 1880. Snowfall ranged from 18 inches to two feet throughout what soon would become Skagit County. This is one of the biggest snows on record in Sisson’s 43-year log, although the temperature never went below 20 degrees and was therefore not recorded. Due to the arrival of warmer weather, the snow did not last long.
1884: Anacortes was coated with six to eight inches of snow in January 1884. This was not an unusual amount of snow compared to other years, but it was the chaos that the storm caused that made this a January of note. High tides and strong winds drove a schooner ashore in the Swinomish Slough. With the Skagit River frozen over in the 10-20 degree temperatures, supplies from Upper Skagit had to be delivered using sleighs, and a large number of cattle died due to the cold temperatures and lack of food and shelter. Luckily, the storm departed as quickly as it had come and Anacortes later was treated to a beautiful spring with a reported 17 straight sunny days.
1893: E. A. Sisson called it the most severe blizzard in his 43 year stay in Anacortes. The February 3, 1916 Anacortes American wrote, “January 30, 1893, when the snow was almost blinding and the temperature fell faster than on any other day during the past 43 years.” The temperature dropped from 17 degrees on January 29, to zero on January 30, and minus six degrees on January 31.
January 31, 1893 was the coldest day recorded in Sisson’s 43-year log. Mount Vernon resident “Dad” Paterson spoke about the particularly harsh winter. “Cakes of drifting ice blocked up where the tides slowed the current, so the Skagit was frozen from its mouth to a point above Mount Vernon,” quoted Fidalgo Magazine on December 14, 1994.
(William and Jane Burdon ride a horse drawn carriage in the snow - early 1900’s)
The First Half of the Century:
1916: Anacortes was greeted with one of the worst storms it would ever experience. Following a rather mild early winter, temperatures dropped rapidly in early February leading to a 46-hour blizzard. Anacortes was left with 36 inches of snow, with some drifts as deep as six feet. Everything in the county was put on hold for several days, including all mills and schools. The railways and electric rail both went down for two weeks making transportation nearly impossible.
Skagit County stores immediately sold out of their stock of sleds. Skis, only recently introduced to the community, became quite popular. The February 10, 1916 Anacortes American reported on the new trend stating, “The ski is not a ferocious species of the snow tiger or the great American ‘high behind,’… nor is it one of the new-fangled Prohibition drinks. The ski, or skis… are of Scandinavian origin and are used for walking or coasting over snow.”
1917: Winter finally showed its face to the people of Anacortes near the end of January 1917 which brought nine inches of snow to Anacortes. Things let up somewhat in February, though the month still came with a solid seven inches of its own, bringing the total for this year to around 16 inches.
1922/1923: This was a modest winter, overall, though snowfall was continual throughout the winter months. Four inches fell in December 1922, two inches fell in January 1923 and the season finished strong with five inches in February.
1928-1930s: Decent-sized flurries hit Anacortes during the next decade. Five inches fell on January 1, 1928. Eight and a half inches accumulated over two weeks in January 1929. A surprise November snowfall brought four and a half inches on November 13, with four more inches falling the next day.
1948/1949: The winter started with a modest two-inch snowfall in December 1948, followed by seven inches in January 1949. The snow reached its peak in February 1949, dusting the city with ten inches, five of which came down on February 4.
The Second Half of the Century:
1950: On January 13, 1950 the city experienced, “a blizzard, the like of which old timers around Anacortes say they never saw matched,” according to the Anacortes American published on January 19 of that year. Temperatures in the city ranged from four to ten degrees above zero and winds reached a reported 65 miles per hour. Seven days in January 1950 broke records with the coldest temperatures ever recorded on those dates. Only one day in January was above freezing. Three to four feet of snow covered the county at its peak with some drifts hosting even deeper chunks. The story continued, “…a howling wind lashing out of the north whipped nearly a half a foot of snow around in the air to further make the day one of the most “rugged” in the history of Anacortes…With the snow being whirled around in the air it was like being in a fog on Commercial Avenue.” Power lines went down and telephone communications were disrupted. Hundreds of homes in the city suffered frozen water pipes. It was an unpleasant situation that few in the community would ever forget.
1951: Bad winter weather arrived late in 1951. March 6 saw Anacortes with ten inches of snow on the ground and various weather damage across town. Heavy snow accumulation caused $500 worth of damage to a marquee above Bogart’s Tavern at 322 Commercial. Today, that number would be close to $5,000 in damage. In the March 15, 1951 Anacortes American, weather recorder, Tom McCrory called it, “the worst March weather recorded in the 14 years I have been here.”
1968/1969: Five inches hit Anacortes on December 31, 1968, the warning shot of what would be a “month long siege of winter weather,” according to the Anacortes American on January 30, 1969. Residents were treated to sledding down D Avenue and ice skating on Lake Erie while the city was treated with a $13,000 price tag (around $92,000 today) for street upkeep, power line repair and other necessities to keep Anacortes safe.
1996/1997: Even more destructive was a storm that lasted from December 1996 to January 1997. From December 23–29, 1996, 23 inches of snow accumulated, the bulk of which arrived on December 29 (14 inches). What followed was several days of high winds and miserable rain. Residential carports, unattached garages, storage buildings, docks, roofs and private boats were some of the notable casualties of the storm. That, combined with three million dollars in agricultural damage, brought the total cost of Skagit County’s private and public damage to $6,245,145.
The 21st Century:
2008: The first big snowstorm of the century took place in December 2008--one of the coldest Decembers on record in Anacortes. Four December days were the coldest ever recorded on those dates. Five hundred tons of sand and four tons of rock salt were used by overworked service crews to help deal with the 17½ - 24 inches of snow across the city. The Police Department went through almost 50 pairs of tire chains during this timeframe. Anacortes Police Chief, Bonnie Bowers, told the American that some patrol cars were in chains for 30 days straight.
2019: After a hiatus of several years for Anacortes snowstorms, about eight inches accumulated in February 2019. The Anacortes Family Center offered hotel vouchers for those without shelter during the storm.
2020: Following the return of the snow in 2019, January 2020 brought twelve inches of snow to Anacortes. The Washington State Ferries activated a new severe weather schedule for a few hours on January 15 for the Anacortes/San Juan Islands route, the first use of the new schedule.
If you have information on snowstorms that aren’t included above, please contact the Anacortes Museum.
27 Freezing Days during January Here, Anacortes American, Feb. 2, 1950.
40 Years Ago – 1951, Anacortes American, Mar. 5, 1951.
Winter Snow Should Turn to Slush; Travel Remains Hazardous, Jacqueline Allison, Goanacortes.com,
Feb. 13, 2019.
Anacortes American, Jan. 30, 1969.
Anacortes American, Jan. 2, 1969.
Snow, and Lots of It, Jon Bauer and Nancy Walbeck, Anacortes American, Jan. 6, 1993.
City Digs Out From Worst Snowstorm in Many a March, American Bulletin, Mar. 5, 1951.
Friday, January 13th to Be Remembered for Rugged Storm, Anacortes American, Jan. 19, 1950.
Heavy Snow Storm Hits City During March, 35 Years Ago, American Bulletin, Mar. 6, 1951.
Of Winters Past, Ginger Houston, Fidalgo Magazine, p. 9, Dec. 14, 1994.
Snow, Water, Wind - What’s next?, Peter Kelley, Skagit Valley Herald, Dec. 31, 1996.
Many Mishaps Result From Worst March Snow Storm, American Bulletin, Mar. 6, 1951.
Old Resident Gives Some Data On Past ‘Cold Snaps’, Anacortes American, Feb. 3, 1916.
Snow Freezes Sales, Services, Joan Pringle, Anacortes American, Dec. 31, 2008.
Residents at Odds on Snow Removal, Joan Pringle, Anacortes American, Dec. 24, 2008.
Schools Close and Traffic Is Tied Up By Snow Storm, American Bulletin, Feb. 3, 1916.
Snow King Is Routed And Mills Are Running Again, Anacortes American, Feb. 10, 1916.
Vince Streano at Dewey Beach, Vince Streano, Anacortes American, Dec. 25, 1996.
Think It’s Been Cold? Not as Cold as the Winter of 1950, Vince Streano, Anacortes American, Feb. 11, 2004.
After Cold Start to Winter, Expect La Nina to Stick Around, Vince Streano, Anacortes American, Jan. 12, 2009.