Thanksgiving storm of 1950 stopped Pittsburgh cold

"SNOWFALL NEARING 15 INCHES" was the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's banner headline on Saturday, Nov. 25, 1950.

As things turned out, that Thanksgiving weekend report was wildly optimistic. Storms that began on Friday night ultimately dumped 31 inches of snow on southwestern Pennsylvania and paralyzed much of the region for the next five days.

As the snow piled up, PG reporter Jack Weisgerber wrote that "gendarmes," using a French word for police, had been pressed into service by "Old Man Stork."

"Police took eight maternity cases to the hospital from 6 to 9 p.m. when expectant mothers could get no cabs or arrange for private transportation," his story said.

Snow continued all weekend, and by Monday, steel plants and most stores were closed, and trolleys and buses were struggling to get back into operation. "Fifth Avenue and Forbes Street runs did not operate yesterday, and no definite time has been established for their resumption," the Post-Gazette reported on Tuesday, Nov. 28. About 500 employees of Pittsburgh Railways were working around the clock with 80 pieces of emergency equipment to remove "the tightly packed snow and ice on those streets," the story said.

About 200 National Guard troops were posted in the Golden Triangle, and nonessential vehicles were barred from Downtown. Army tanks were brought in to pull tractor-trailer trucks out of snowbanks.

Eighteen people died around the region from storm-related causes, most of them from heart attacks linked to snow shoveling. That statistic was included in a retrospective storm story that appeared Jan. 19, 1978.

"STORM EASES, STORES TO OPEN" a Post-Gazette front-page headline announced on Wednesday, Nov. 29. That same day's paper warned returning workers not to drive, because huge mounds of snow had kept streets narrow and filled vacant lots. "With no parking space available Downtown, [workers] will have to depend on trolleys and buses while service is still subnormal," the paper said.

Most schools remained closed, with officials in some districts saying they would not reopen until the following week.

By that time, boots and galoshes were hard to find, the newspaper said.

There were no stories about or pictures of kitchen chairs being used to save dug-out parking spaces, but the Post-Gazette reported that local residents were finally finding things to joke about.

"Snow-sharpened tempers were still stretched to the breaking point yesterday, but Pittsburghers managed to laugh about the big snow -- when they weren't actually up to their ears in it," the newspaper said. "Chief source of humor, it seems, was the endless variety of cast-off military clothing which made its appearance on the backs of Pittsburgh males. Combat boots, field jackets, parkas and Navy watch caps were commonplace -- worn in combinations that were definitely not G.I."

Len Barcousky: or 724-772-0184.

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