Jul 29, 2014
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Edmonds Residents Bring Out Cameras for the Snowstorm of the Century

The biggest snowstorm on record hit Edmonds on Jan. 31, 1916. It paralyzed the town, collapsed roofs and buildings and brought residents into the streets with their newfangled Brownie cameras to record the event.

The first flakes fell late in the afternoon on Jan. 16.

Over the next 24 hours, 21.5 inches of thick snow blanketed Edmonds and the rest of Puget Sound. Blustery winds created snow drifts up to 5-feet deep.

This remains a record—our largest 24-hour pile—and is remembered today as the Big Snow of 1916.

Amazingly, the big snow dump was predicted by the famous Pilchuck Julia. Julia, who shared a cabin on the Pilchuck River near Snohomish with her husband Pilchuck Jack, was arguably the best-known Native American resident of that town. Julia used indictors from nature, such as caterpillar fuzz density and the relative production of Douglas Fir cones, to predict weather patterns. Her prognostications became part of local lore and were widely reported.

In late 1915 Julia predicted of a snowfall "two squaws deep" for the coming winter. Dismissed by many as unscientific, this prediction proved spot on. After the storm, the Edmonds Tribune-Review reported that “... the betting odds against Pilchuck Julia's prophecy of snow this winter 'two squaws deep,' was at least 100-to-1 against the prophetess, but presto, by the next morning people in the Sound country began to realize that they were in the grip of a blizzard and Pilchuck Julia’s stock began to climb.”

The snow closed Edmonds schools and businesses, collapsed roofs and buildings (in Seattle the snow collapsed the great dome of St. James Catherdral), halted street traffic and blocked the railroad tracks into and out of town.

Luckily for us, many photos exist of this event. The Kodak Brownie box camera, first introduced in 1900, put photography in the hands of everyone, and by the mid-1910s amateur photography had become the rage. When the big snow began on Jan. 31, cameras were nearly as commonplace as shovels.

Edmonds residents were no exception. Cameras at the ready, they took to the streets, leaving behind a collection of photos that show the town in the aftermath of this major weather event. No snowfalls since then have been as well photographed. The accompanying images are a representative sample of Edmonds in the wake of the Big Snow of 1916.

But what about this winter? Long-range predictions for January 2012 show the National Weather Service and the Old Farmer's Almanac in pretty close agreement. Both call for wetter, cooler weather as winter progresses, and there are no mentions of major snow events.

I wonder what Pilchuck Julia would say.

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