The October snowstorm, 25 years later

Oct 18, 2022

The 1997 storm brought a heartwarming response from Creighton students, as well as an amusing one.

Featured Testimonial About Creighton University

Images of the October 1997 blizzard

There is no reason that a person can’t just spend 95 cents on an ice scraper instead of $10 replacing their ID card.

Tree split in October 1997 snowstorm

By Micah Mertes

Wednesday, Oct. 26, marks the 25-year anniversary of the 1997 snowstorm that devastated eastern Nebraska, including the Omaha metro area.

The blizzard brought 9.2 inches of snowfall to the city, doubling the previous record for an October snowstorm — set in 1898(!).

According to The World-Herald, the ’97 storm “took the lives of five people, severed power to nearly 300,000 homes and businesses in Nebraska and Iowa, and cost more than $50 million to clean up.” Nearly two-thirds of Omaha’s trees were damaged.

Trees down at observatory

The storm wrought havoc at Creighton, as well, with heavy snow and strong winds splitting tree trunks in two and covering campus in a mush of snow and debris.

For John Mulhall, the chairman of Mulhall’s nursery at the time, the storm had done its best to blow away the work of a lifetime.

Mulhall had arrived at Creighton in the mid-1950s to serve as groundskeeper. (Read more about Mulhall here.) Over the ensuring years, he and his company helped transform a concrete jungle into a flourishing, tree-lined campus.

Then, the storm. According to a 1997 Creightonian article, the apocalyptic scene Mulhall saw that October seemed to have broken his heart a little.

But he and others did what they had to. They cleaned, they pruned, they replanted and rebuilt Creighton’s landscape, limb by limb, tree by tree.

Mulhall’s six-person crew estimated it would take about 1,200 hours to clean up the fallen branches. They tried to preserve as many fully matured trees as possible, in particular the memorial trees planted for students who had passed away. The campus canopy would take years to fully recover.

A snowman at Creighton in October 1997.

(This wasn’t the first time Creighton’s trees had taken a beating. In the 1960s, diseased elm woods had to be cut down in front of the Administration Building and replanted in the Jesuit Gardens.)

That storm of ’97 was easily one of the worst natural disasters in Omaha’s history. And Creighton students, faculty and staff rose to the occasion.

They cleaned up branches on campus and throughout the city. They volunteered at shelters for people without power. They raised money to replace fallen trees across campus.

A Creightonian letter to the editor praised the University for its assistance to the Omaha Housing Authority. On Halloween and Nov. 1 of 1997, students provided hundreds of meals to residents in three OHA facilities, mostly elderly people whose food had spoiled due to the power outages.

Creightonian headline of the snowstorm in 1997

Julia Parker, executive director of the OHA at the time, wrote a letter to the University, calling them “a lifesaver.” The letter read: “Even during the best of weather, life is often not very easy for people who live with us. During difficult times, it can become almost impossible. You helped the OHA tell them that somebody cares.”

Yet Creighton students’ response to the storm wasn’t ALL heartwarming. Some of it was merely amusing.

In a Creightonian article following the storm, students complained that classes hadn’t been canceled, even in the face of a once-in-a-century weather event. (Perhaps, in hindsight, a fair complaint.)

In the same edition, a representative of the Card Services Office admonished students for using their Creighton IDs as windshield ice scrapers.

“There is no reason,” Card Services said, “that a person can’t just spend 95 cents on an ice scraper instead of $10 replacing their ID card.”