Kane County History: Aurora's Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Winter of 1918

Kane County History: Aurora’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Winter of 1918

A photographer carefully captures a living snow sculpture. (All photos courtesy of the Aurora Historical Society.)

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was contributed by Aurora Historical Society Executive Director John Jaros and AHS Board President Mary Clark Ormond. All photos are courtesy of the Aurora Historical Society.

Aurora’s worst January ever

A girl stands in a plowed road in January 1918.

The next time an elderly person bends your ear about how much tougher Aurora winters were “back in the day,” you should listen respectfully. Because although winter is winter year after year, and you can always count on some commonalities like endless gray days and long, long nights, there are some standout seasons to talk about.

One such took place 103 years ago, the winter of 1917-1918. January was the worst part of that bad winter: the snowiest and coldest in recorded history. Chicago’s 42.5 inches of snow that month is STILL the region’s one-month record for snowfall.

A person poses with a snow-laden tree.

The cherry on top of that well-frosted cake was the cold.  For 28 straight days (Dec. 28 to Jan. 24) the temperature — night or day — never rose above freezing and the average temperature was 11.6 degrees.  Although that frigid record was finally broken in 1977, it still stands as the second-coldest stretch of days in local history.

Despite the extreme records, the human toll was small. In its “Causes of Death” report for 1918 the Aurora Health Department listed only one death possibly related to the weather during January: It was due to “exposure and freezing.”  In light of the 284 Aurora citizens who would die later that year of the so-called Spanish flu, January wasn’t so bad, after all.

Mittens and mufflers are still de rigueur in Aurora this winter, but the data show that so far in January 2021, Aurora has seen 16 days out of 26 reach above freezing and only one day in which overnight lows dropped into the single digits. At least this year, we can’t argue with those elderly storytellers.

Feature Photo Caption

Chicago, Aurora and DeKalb electric interurban train stopped in its tracks by heavy snow.

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