SEATTLE SNOWS, Part 8

1970-71 “THE WORLD’S GREATEST 12-MONTH SNOWFALL”

Not in Seattle but close – at the Paradise Ranger Station on Mount Rainier.  More than 85 feet, or 1,027 inches, fell that “snow year.”  Seattle got only five days of snow in mid-January 1971, but this was enough to inspire Arden T. Aegerter, then managing director of Greater Seattle, to find an omen for his already planned Seafair expansion: “Our little snow storm was a good-luck sign.  Our plans are completed for the first Snowfair, a winter counterpart of the summer Seafair.”

This snow was also political, for Snowfair was born from the then-new Mayor Wes Uhlman’s criticism of the 1970 Seafair as too predictable.  For years the same format had been used for the summer celebration: hydroplane races, a grand Saturday parade, and the Seattle press club’s creation of the festival’s own dramatic South Seas myth featuring Neptune, Davy Jones, and other Pirates acted out by regaled car salesmen and perky princesses picked from neighborhood contests.  From here on, Aegerter first explained, a Sunday night Torchlight Parade would be added.  (I remember it well, for I time-lapsed the lighted floats and spotlighted marching bands as they returned to Seattle Center’s Memorial Center for a last go round on the stadium’s track.)

Then Aegerter stretched. By extending Seafair into Snowfair, Greater Seattle would answer the mayor’s call for variety.  Once examined, however, it is clear that  the short-lived Snowfair required considerably more skill, stamina, and scratch from those who came than the populist passivity needed for watching parades and boat races.  Snowfair was a campaign to bring out-of-state skiers to Cascade ski runs in the first days of March, by arranging five-day package accommodations with bussing to five separate ski resorts from a home base accommodation at the Olympic Hotel in Seattle.  It was all nice play if one could afford it – 300 skiers were expected – but not really a “counterpart” to the cheaper thrills of Seafair that moved thousands and their portable lawn chairs.

Otherwise, or snow-wise, the 1970s may be nearly forgotten except for snowballs, a few photographs of a late November snow in 1978, also the year when a hint of snow hysteria visited us.  We will treat them in that order.

First, from police reports, two examples of Snowball havoc.  On January 13, 1971, during the same snow that Greater Seattle’s Aegerter saw as confirmation for his Snowfair, Marguerite Sillman, Paul Thomas, and William Caldwell were all cut when windows in the bus they were riding on 15th Avenue N.E. near N.E. 65th  Street were shattered by packed in snow.  It was lunchtime at nearby Roosevelt High School.

A year later, by police estimates between three and five hundred participated in “snowball war” on 45th Street near the University campus and “Fraternity Row.”  It seems that in climates like ours where snow is rare, snowball restraints are not so readily learned as in places where snow is commonplace like, for instance, Spokane.  Here giving an adolescent fresh snow is like handing him a Red Ryder BB Gun.

In its second year following the Century 21 World’s Fair, Seattle Center, always on the lookout for good events to help revive the campus, allied with KVI radio for what may be considered as a controlled civics lesson in proper snowball behavior.  Five of the radio station’s staff dueled with the chorus girls from the cast of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” in the first annual “Pacific Northwest Mid-Summer Snowball Fight.”

It was staged amid the wide lawn of grass mounds that were at the Center’s northeast corner. The contest was scheduled for 5:30 on the afternoon of July 28, 1964.  It was the day that the Ranger 7 spacecraft was launched for a three-day trip to take the first close-up pictures of the moon, while below it at Seattle Center a snowmaking machine produced smaller missiles.  The Center advised, “The public is cordially invited  – to observe” only.  And to learn.

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Staying in Seattle Center, only a few years later, accompanying is a look towards the Pacific Science Center during the little snow of November 19, 1978.  The photographer was Werner Lenggenhager, one of the more prolific recorders of Seattle scenes from the 1940s and well into the 1970s.  This early snow was also alluring for Frank Shaw, another prodigious chronicler of Seattle into the mid-1980s, and he took off from his Lower Queen Anne apartment for a walk through Myrtle Edwards Park, also shown here.

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This is also almost certainly the day that Bill Burden, Paula Kerby, and I took a clown’s walk that morning from our home in the Cascade Neighborhood to Capitol Hill by way of the Lakeview Boulevard E. overpass.  In one of these, Paula and Bill appear ready to climb to the playfield using the stairway painted onto the retaining wall that secures the west wall of the Cascade Playfield.  The faux stairway and the rest of this ca. 1973 CETA mural project were painted over during the early stages of the buffo buffing that is still being applied to the entire South Lake Union Neighborhood by Paul Allen’s Vulcan enterprise.  Another scene looks down at the snow art made in the parking lot that was then at the northwest corner of Fairview Avenue and E. Ward Street.  From nearly the same prospect, the Seattle skyline of late 1978 is recorded from the overpass.  [Bill Burden’s reflections on television snow reporting are included below under “Weather Reports.”]

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Ice Age hysteria was flirted with in 1978.  That year scientist Dr. Robert Jastrow noted, “The longest this part of the world has been without an ice age until now is 10,000 years.  We now have gone 11,000 years without one.”  Thirty years later (in 2008), the Columbia University space scientist may have interpreted this as evidence for global warming, but in 1978 he suggested that we are overdue for the next ice age, and that it only takes a shift of five degrees in the average temperature to produce one.

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Here is Eric giving me a thumbs-up at the Ivar’s Acres of Clams party for my 70th birthday last October.

Seattle Times feature columnist Eric Lacitis picked up this story for an article published February 4, 1978.  Quoting from Nigel Calder’s popular book The Weather Machine, Lacitis described a fresh theory called “snowblitz.”  It explains that, “like airborne troops, invading snowflakes seize whole countries in a single winter.” The snow “lies through the summer and autumn, reflecting the sunshine.  It chills the air and guarantees more snow next winter . . . The ice sheet gradually grows thicker over a huge area . . . Your land is snatched in a single bad summer.” Lacitis concluded, “An ice age doesn’t need a thousand years to happen. In less than 100 years – in just a ‘blip’ of time – it could happen.”  Curiously, if memory serves me now, it was about this time that Lacitis, an old friend, moved off the top of Queen Anne Hill to an island home.

(continue to Part Nine)

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