Arctic Temperatures Bring Hard Times to St. Louis: February 1, 1899

Frozen Mississippi River at St. Louis, Eads Bridge, historical

After our most recent bout of arctic temperatures here in Missouri this piece of miscellany may feel a little too familiar. Extreme cold temperatures were gripping St. Louis on this date in 1899, so much so that a report in the Kansas City Journal claimed five St. Louisans had succumbed to the cold the day before. It was reported that temperatures hadn’t gone higher than 1 degree Fahrenheit. The report claimed that one of the five people, Mrs. Mary Ryan, had slipped on ice and been knocked unconscious. Exposure to the extreme cold eventually took its toll. Two of the others, Mr. Charles Farley and Mr. August Benson, were laborers (possibly suffering from tuberculosis, or “consumptives” as the report describes them) looking for work in the cold conditions. The report described the day as clear with cold “of the marrow-penetrating variety.” 

Although freezing temperatures may still reach us here in the Show-Me State, at least we’ve gotten better at keeping ourselves safe from its worst effects. The latest report on weather-related fatalities, dated 2022, for Missouri shows 0 deaths owing to cold. Although our infrastructure may be better than it was at the turn of the twentieth century, it’s still always a good idea to have a plan for winter weather. It’s especially a good idea to know how to handle winter power outages.

The report also made mention of the rivers freezing over. Apparently the Mississippi, the Illinois, and Missouri Rivers had all frozen over just above St. Louis, and it was being predicted that the Mississippi would be frozen up by the next day. According to a 2023 report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Mississippi froze over at St. Louis at least 10 times between 1831 and 1938, but when the Alton Lock and Dam was completed just upriver, it began catching a great deal of the ice that would cause solid freezes at the Gateway City.