When It Snowed in New Orleans
From 1853 to 2008, the National Weather Service recorded 17 New Orleans “snow events.”
As the story goes, some years back the New Orleans Assessors (when there were more than one of them) required property owners to fill out a description form for their property and mail it in, along with a photograph.
Included in the collection were a number of pictures of New Orleans houses in the snow – recording the one time people felt compelled to take a snapshot of the family home.
Former Assessor Janyce Degan couldn’t confirm that legend, but she does remember a typical New Orleans snow experience: “I was going down Harrison Avenue with the kids in the car – and I was slipping and sliding, and it was very scary.” On a more positive snow note: “I remember taking them to City Park because it was so beautiful.”
Snow doesn’t come to New Orleans every year. The National Weather Service has records dating back to 1849, and besides the 17 “snow events” of lasting cover, there were 38 days when traces of the fluffy precipitation appeared, but didn’t linger.
Even if it doesn’t come down every year, New Orleanians always hope it will. For years the Maison Blanche department stores’ Christmas mascot Mister Bingle ran an essay contest for kids: “Just write down why you want it to snow in New Orleans and send it to Mister Bingle’s Snow Contest,” the ad in The Times-Picayune read. First prize was a trip to “Rocky Mountain Snow Country,” with a bike and T-shirts as consolation prizes.
The best year for snow was 1895; Feb. 14, and the next day Feb. 15, had the largest snowfall the city has seen: 8.2 inches. Hazel Schlueter – also known as WWOZ’s Hazel the Delta Rambler – can attest that her great-grandfather, New Orleanian Gottleib Wolf, remembered it with awe. A Picayune reporter recorded that “the whole city was throwing snowballs or being hit by them.” He ventured up on the roof of the Grunewald (now Roosevelt) hotel to measure 7 inches of snow, and observe that “improvised sleigh and sleds on the streets” were being cheered by pedestrians.
Rex (Walter Denegre) rolled on Feb. 12, 1899, with 3 inches of snow on his route. While snow may not fall on the parade, it may influence the look of the floats. Mardi Gras float designer Henri Schindler pointed out that “it’s only natural that designers would turn to the arctic or to snowflakes – they are so decorative!”
Other holidays may see snow. Peter Derbes recalled snow on Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12) in 1958 when a 1.5 inches fell.
On New Year’s Eve of 1963, 4.5 inches fell. As usual, the streetcars stopped running, but that didn’t stop partygoers. Angus Lind, in a ’88 Times-Picayune column, recounted his ’63 evening at the F & M Patio – somewhat dampened by his nagging guilt over not returning some extra change he got back from the clerk at Larry and Katz’s liquor store. The Sugar Bowl game helped the winning Alabama Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant add to his legend when the wet, cold field of the old Tulane Stadium forced the better rated Ole Miss team to fumble 11 times. Obviously, the Bear controlled the weather.
For those years when the weather doesn’t cooperate, New Orleanians have other options. Rodney Thoulion, executive director of Friends of City Park, points out that City Park in many years has had a snow day in the Dreyfous Meadow, in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art. “It turns the meadow into a winter wonderland filled with tons of snow generated from a machine. It’s really a treat for families.” Original sponsor for the event was Radiofone, no longer in existence.
Loyola’s University Programming Board puts on Sneaux @ Loyno every year, with snow pumped in for students to revel in before leaving for the holidays. And, there’s the annual “Miracle on Fulton Street” when Harrah’s casino activates a Snowmaster machine in the Fulton Street walkway that turns liquid soap into tiny snow-like bubbles. There is a 10-minute “snowfall” on the hour, between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m., beginning in late November and continuing until Jan. 2.
The biggest snowfall in recent memory was on Christmas Day of 2004 when 1.5 inches fell. As Peter Derbes remarked, “we should have known it augured something ill.” Hurricane Katrina arrived eight months later. But, that Christmas snowfall was especially lovely.
As Angus Lind remembers: “We had just sat down to eat Christmas dinner – my wife, me and my son and daughter, who were adults. I think we had toasted, and my son said ‘it’s snowing like crazy outside.’
“With hot food on the table, we just ran outside. To think that you would stop cold and go frolic in the snow: four adults!
“My wife grabbed a beret and a red scarf – to look Christmas-y. I got the camera, and we started shooting pictures of each other. We even stopped somebody and asked him to take a picture of us.”
Some good things are meant to last forever:
“That picture’s been in our front room ever since.”
If you want your own snowy winter wonderland, get out your checkbook and call Pelican Ice and Cold Storage, Inc., (PelicanIce.com) at 602-0113. Pelican’s John Renaudin explains “We actually go out with a huge machine that breaks down 300 pound blocks of ice, and it blows it just about everywhere.” If you “friend” them on Facebook (Pelican Ice and Cold Storage) you’ll get a chance to enter one of their many contests. Pelican supplies the “snow” for events at both City Park and Loyola University. (Pelican is also the official ice of the New Orleans Saints.)