The Blizzard of 1936

In February of 1936, McHenry experienced some of the worst weather in the town’s history. The city did have some terrible winters in the past, 1889 and 1918 were noted as particularly bad. In 1918, the trains froze, and several men in town couldn’t get to work at the Terra Cotta factory. The coldest February on record, since records were kept, was in 1875 which averaged 14.8 degrees. The winter in 1936 however, would average 8.2 degrees, with many days near or under 15 degrees below zero. The cold was also accompanied by a blizzard, while on other days, there was heavy snowfall.

Picture of car driving between two snow drifts measured at about 25 feet high. Note how close they are to the top of the power lines. Appearing in the 13 Feb 1936 Crystal Lake Herald.

On February 3rd, the area was hit with about 6 inches of snow. Huge snow drifts made neighboring farms look miles away and by February 5th, the thermometer read -25 degrees. Initially, roads were completely blocked off. Some vehicles were stuck in the middle of the road and added to the frustration of making the roads passable. Others played it safe and stayed in the town’s very crowded hotels, including passengers from the Greyhound Bus traveling through the area. Train service was still working and some people were able to get to work by rail. Bobsleds were also popular modes of transportation, as were horse-drawn vehicles. By Wednesday, state and local snowplow crews cleared a path and worked constantly to keep at least one lane of traffic open. Things seemed like they were getting back to normal, until a blizzard hit two days later on February 8th.

Picture showing the train that ran off the tracks heading to McHenry. Compliments of the 13 Feb 1936 Crystal Lake Herald.

While the temperatures and snowfall from the February 3rd event were dangerous, the blizzard on the 8th was serious. Most people used coal to heat their homes at that time and due to poor weather across the region, there was a coal shortage. Some businesses, such as the McHenry Lumber Co., had the coal ordered, it just hadn’t been able to get in yet. Also creating problems was the seemingly unlimited amount of snow, which then tended to drift across roads. Reaching 25 feet in some places, the drifts completely blocked off not only automobile traffic but trains as well. For the first time since the blizzard of 1918, the trains didn’t arrive in McHenry like they did every day. A train leaving Woodstock, being pushed by two engines, tipped over on the way to McHenry after hitting a very tall snowdrift. It took about 40 men constantly digging to clear a path on the railroad tracks to get things moving again. Towns were cut off from one another for about four days. The real trouble was people who lived on farms, many had to rely on themselves. Remarkably, the blizzard only caused the deaths of around three individuals who fell ill on their farms and were unable to receive medical attention in time. One farmer, who had run out of coal, was able to keep himself warm by staying in the barn with his cows. Once again state and local crews were able to clear the roads, but only after continual plowing for three days due to continual snow drifts.

Not everyone had a lousy time. School was cancelled for weeks due to the winter weather. Compliments of the McHenry Sesquicentennial.

People had to question their luck regarding the weather. However, they did get somewhat lucky concerning melting snow. Looking at the huge piles of snow around them, lots of snow means lots of water, and people worried about flooding when it started to melt. Overflowing rivers and lakes could lead to a whole new set of problems. However, as hard as the winter hit the area, spring came in gradually allowing for the snow to slowly melt and not be much of a hassle. As bad as the winter had been, it left with a bit of a whimper. While the area would be hit with terrible snowfall and blizzards, such as in 1940 and 1978, they never seemed to top the blizzard of 1936.


  • “’State Trucks Plow Through Huge Drifts.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 6 Feb 1936, 1. Web. 27 Feb 2022.
  • “Heavy Snows Block Highways.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 6 Feb 1936, 8. Web. 27 Feb 2022.
  • “New Blizzard Blocks Every McHenry Road.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 13 Feb 1936, 1. Web. 27 Feb 2022.
  • “McHenry Is Without Trains For Four Days.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 13 Feb 1936, 8. Web. 27 Feb 2022.
  • “Double Shifts Fight To Keep Highways Open.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 20 Feb 1936, 1. Web. 27 Feb 2022.
  • “Gradual Thaw Lessons Danger Of Bad Floods.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 27 Feb 1936, 1. Web. 27 Feb 2022.
  • “Weather Is Most Severe Of Century Traffic Crippled.” The Herald. (Crystal Lake, IL) 13 Feb 1936, 1. Web. 27 Feb 2022.