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Macon Chronicle-Herald - Macon, MO
  • Surprise of ’73

  • Freak blizzard 40 years ago buried city under 5-foot snowdrifts
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  • Kirksville went to work Tuesday morning expecting 75 degree temperatures with a chance of severe thunderstorms.
     
    Local residents who were here April 9, 1973, recall a different scene. On that day 40 years ago, many were trapped, either at home or at their offices, when a freak storm dropped between 10-15 inches of snow - and snowdrifts as high as five feet - on an unsuspecting city.
     
    The April 8 edition of the Daily Express reported a weather forecast that was, perhaps, depressing given the season, but hardly alarming: “Rain possibly changing to light snow in the northern half of the state today.”
     
    The following day, April 9, struck a different tone, as the headline screamed “Storm Paralyzes Kirksville Area.”
     
    “The unexpected snowstorm virtually paralyzed business in downtown Kirksville with store employees being about the only ones to venture out,” the story reads.
     
    The Kirksville R-III School system closed “for the first time in approximately eight years” because, according to Superintendent O. Wayne Phillips, “several roads were impassable” and “conditions were getting worse all the time.”
     
    Many residents had trouble making phone calls, but the weather was only an indirect cause.
     
    “Everyone is home today and most of them seem to be talking on the phone,” Southwestern Bell Telephone Manager Judy Lambeth said. The volume of calls had overloaded the system.
     
    City crews were called out at 3 a.m. to combat the snow, with drifts making it difficult to keep the streets clear. Crews were aided by “recently purchased radios” that were installed in trucks and allowed crews to receive dispatches.
     
    Local factories, including Hollister Inc., shut around noon, with large segments of the workforce unable to travel in the conditions.
     
    April 10 wasn’t much better, according to the archives. The Kirksville R-III district was closed again, joined by Northeast Missouri State University and the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine.
     
    “Hundreds of rural people were unable to make it to their homes last night and stayed with friends in town,” the April 10 story says. “Several people were reportedly stranded at work. Approximately 75 Burroughs and Kewanee employees reportedly spent the night at Burroughs unable to get home due to four and five foot drifts. Some people even slept on tables at Sandy’s restaurant.
     
    “Among those who were stranded overnight were two Kirksville Highway Patrol Troopers, Tom Lehmann and Mack Nations. They and about 12 other stranded motorists spent the night at the Layton Wilson residence, located about two miles north of Kirksville on U.S. 63.
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    “Trooper Lehmann said he and Trooper Nations were on their way back to Kirksville after investigating an accident when they came up behind eight or nine stalled vehicles. He said the drifting snow made the road completely impassable. The road was cleared about 9 a.m. today and the Troopers are now back on duty.”
     
    Industrial Road, which was located outside the city limits, was being cleared by city crews in order to help get local factories working again. Even a small National Guard unit was activated in order to assist the city get moving again.
     
    The Guard was assisted by local law enforcement in responding service requests, “swamped with calls taking people to doctors, hospitals and grocery stores.” Conditions made some of those responses impossible. Sheriff Leon Coy reported an unsuccessful attempt in responding to an emergency call from a woman who was due to have a baby. Snow drifts prevented law enforcement from reaching the woman, but they later learned she had made it to a neighbor’s home and stayed the night.
     
    “Coy said he had contacted her physician Dr. Wilson P. Bailey, and had arranged for a snowmobile if an emergency situation had occurred,” the story said.
     
    Even the U.S. Postal Service was halted by the storm, which Assistant Postmaster Bob Funk called “the worst I have ever seen” in his 25 years.
     
    Rural carriers faced more difficult challenges. One, Randall Roberts, could not be reached because the Yarrow phones were not functioning.
     
    “Two other rural carriers, Jimmy Higgins and substitute Truman Swingle, had to abandon their vehicles and stay overnight in farm homes. Higgins got stuck in the city limits near the nursing home at the end of East Normal. He rode a horse in and obtained another vehicle to carry his route. Swingle was not so fortunate and walked to town.”
     
    It was estimated that four or five days would be needed to recover from the backlog of mail and return to normal operations.”
     
    If you have photos or memories of the storm you’d like to share, contact us at dailyexpresseditor@gmail.com or visit our Facebook page.
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