The Daily Advertiser reported, “Except in the coastal regions, Louisiana and Mississippi today are mantled in the heaviest snow in years, measuring from one to 13 inches.”
The area “peeped out through a blanket of sleet and snow … following a night which saw the weather man ‘shoot the works,’” the paper reported. Snow began to fall early on the morning of Monday, Jan. 22, turning during the day into sleet, then into a cold rain..
“Toward nightfall, sleet and snow mixed fell and continued until near … midnight [as] the temperature … fell to 24 degrees,” according to the newspaper, which noted that “old residents … state that the weather in the past week has been the worst that this section has experienced in 40 years.”
Those old residents were wrong. Actually, January 1940 turned out to be the coldest January in the history of south Louisiana. It still holds the record as our coldest January, and began a year that is on the short list of our worst weather years ever. The average temperature for the month at Lafayette was only 40.4 degrees, 13 degrees below the long-term average for January.
The temperature dropped below freezing on 22 of 31 nights in January 1940, including a stretch of 17 consecutive nights beginning Jan. 15. Temperatures fell into the teens on five of those frigid nights. It slipped to 14 degrees on the night of Jan. 19 and the next day, according to the newspaper, residents, “shivered and slipped their way to work.”
Plumbers reported broken pipes all across Acadiana. Gasoline stations were inundated with motorists seeking antifreeze for their cars.
On Jan. 25, “A cloudy sky and north wind whipped [across the area] … and ice and snow in shady spots … froze harder. … The thawing process … was halted … by another freeze and … no relief from the cold is anticipated before the weekend.”
Plants took a beating. E.A. McIlhenny reported “incalculable damage” to the Jungle Gardens at Avery Island. He said he lost $100,000 in camellias alone and that ice accumulations broke many limbs on the island’s huge oak trees.
Cattlemen drove herds into the woods, where there was some shelter from a continuing, biting north wind. But still many head were lost to the cold.
The freezing weather induced or worsened a flu outbreak that took several lives in Acadiana and continued to be a problem into early February. On Jan. 29, the Advertiser reported that “due to continued cold weather and a prevailing intense epidemic of influenza, local schools were not in session last week. At the high school, several attempts were made to continue classes, but the absentee roll was too large.”
Acadiana residents breathed a collective sigh of relief, as, finally in early February, the freezing gale from the north shifted to the south and brought warm winds from the Gulf. Little did they know that in just a few months those gentle southerly breezes would turn into a hurricane.
That storm stalled over south Louisiana to make 1940 not only our coldest year on record, but also the wettest. The flood it caused in August rivaled the 1927 flood in some places.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.