22Winter Wonderland: A History of Snow at Dartmouth

One writer examines the history of snow days and cold temperatures at Dartmouth, and reflects on her own experiences with the winter weather.

by Gretchen Bauman | 1/26/22 2:25am

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by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth

Last Monday, I woke up to the sight of flurries falling from the sky, blanketing the campus in several inches of snow. As I walked to the library a few hours later, flakes quickly accumulated on my eyelashes and streaked my hair. The still-falling snow, coupled with canceled classes due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, made me feel as though I was reliving one of the many snow days that I had so treasured as a child. Unfortunately, though Dartmouth students may dream of snow days each time the weather forecast predicts any chance of flurries, the administration has historically canceled classes only under extraordinary circumstances. 

An article in The Sun and New York Herald from March 7, 1920, noted that on March 6, Dartmouth canceled classes for the first time since 1888 after receiving two feet of snow within ten hours. 

“Men living in fraternity houses outside the town were unable to make their way through the drifts of the college campus without the aid of snowshoes,” the article noted.

According to an article published in The Dartmouth after the blizzard of 1978, the College canceled classes on Feb. 7 for the only time in recent history after 36 inches of snow blanketed the Upper Valley. The blizzard was so severe that even town businesses such as The Dartmouth Co-Op and The Dartmouth Bookstore were forced to close, and over 30 workmen labored through the night to remove all the snow from campus and transport it to an area near the Connecticut River.

Clearly, as evidenced by the decades-long gaps in between these snow days, the Dartmouth administration rarely cancels classes due to inclement weather, seemingly only relenting once students cannot make it to class without a pair of snowshoes. 

Yet despite the administration’s disinclination, the snow continues to fall on Hanover. Data collected by R.H. Goddard, a former Dartmouth astronomy professor during the early 20th century, found that, between 1866 and 1947, the average amount of snowfall per winter was 72.8 inches. Furthermore, the total snowfall in a single winter exceeded 100 inches six times during these 82 winters, with the winter of 1866-67 holding the record for the most amount of snowfall, at 116.5 inches of snow for the season.

All of this snow has led Hanover to call upon students and townspeople to help in the shoveling effort. A Boston Post article published January 6, 1947, reported on a “snow bee” organized by the Hanover Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber promised free doughnuts and coffee to anyone who was willing to help shovel Hanover’s streets, as the snow was becoming a traffic hazard. Townspeople, including Dartmouth’s then-president John Sloan Dickey, pitched in, clearing the streets by early afternoon. On March 2, 1952, Dartmouth students were again called upon for their help; the Boston Sunday Herald included a picture of students shoveling Main Street after a 23-inch snowfall. 

As idyllic as a town shoveling session sounds, I’m incredibly thankful Dartmouth hasn’t enlisted students to shovel this winter. When I got my driver’s license two years ago, I dreaded scraping snow and ice off of my windshield before driving to school; Each time it snowed, I was less focused on the blizzard’s beauty than on how much work the snow was creating for me. If I were asked to shovel Dartmouth’s campus, I’m sure I would soon come to resent the snow, rather than appreciating how it turns Hanover into a winter wonderland. 

In addition to the snow, Hanover often records cold temperatures unmatched by many of the other New England states. Goddard collected data on cold temperatures between 1876 and 1925, and found that the coldest day recorded during these 50 years was on December 30, 1917, when the mean temperature was -22 degrees Fahrenheit. Furthermore, these cold temperatures can persist well into spring term. A Dartmouth Alumni Magazine article published in the December 1997 issue reported that in 1996, the crew teams were unable to row on the Connecticut River until March 26; prior to this date, the temperatures were so cold that the river had not yet unfrozen. Even more shocking, between 1976 and 1996, there were three years in which the river did not thaw until mid-April, much to the chagrin of the crew team. 

After I committed to Dartmouth last winter, I devoted large amounts of time to checking Hanover’s weather forecast. Though I have survived a decade and a half of Midwest winters, Hanover is plagued by colder and snowier weather than I have ever experienced in my life; each time I opened the weather app, I cringed. 

While the weather hasn’t been quite as bad as I was imagining, there have definitely been moments where I’ve fantasized about going to school in a warm-weather state. When I trudge through snow on my way to Spanish drill at 7:45 a.m., when the sun has barely risen and the temperature resides well below freezing, I often find myself longing for the fall term days in which I could walk outside without wearing a jacket. Furthermore, due to my unfortunate habit of walking across campus with wet hair, this term my hair has frozen far more often than I’d like to admit. Most recently, the top half of my hair, covered by my hat, remained unfrozen, while the bottom half quickly began to resemble a block of ice. When I took the hat off, I was dismayed to find that my hair was no longer a uniform texture, or even a consistent state of matter. 

Despite my many bad hair days as a result of the winter chill, I’m slowly growing to appreciate how the near-constant snow and extremely cold temperatures have provided me with opportunities to participate in activities that I never had the chance to do during high school. Though we may not have had an official snow day yet, that hasn’t prevented me from sledding down the hills of the golf course, skating on Occom Pond and going cross-country skiing — though the latter was done without much success. As much as I can’t wait for spring, to see the Green become green again and to wear ripped jeans without my knees freezing, I’ve loved living in the snow globe that is Hanover so far. And although the odds are slim, I’ll keep crossing my fingers for a snow day.

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