Off-campus UNL users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your NU ID and password. When you are done browsing please remember to return to this page and log out.

Non-UNL users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

The hard winter of 1880-1881: Climatological context and communication via a Laura Ingalls Wilder narrative

Barbara E Boustead, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The Hard Winter of 1880-1881 was featured in the Laura Ingalls Wilder historical fiction account, The Long Winter, as well as in several town histories across the region. Both meteorological records and historical accounts indicate that the winter was particularly long, snowy, and cold. The question of how "hard" a winter is for a given location depends on the climatological context, which relies on an objective characterization of winter severity. The Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index (AWSSI) allows comparison of the winter of 1880-1881 among sites across the region, as well as in the context of the period of record, to quantify its severity. Additionally, investigating the impacts of both the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) in the central United States provides context for the influence of both a strongly negative NAO and an El Niño event during the winter of 1880-1881. With an understanding of the climatological factors influencing the Hard Winter, along with the context for its severity, a more thorough analysis then was conducted to quantify and describe its severity. The connection of the winter of 1880-1881 to a popular book written by an author who is a cultural icon provides a natural vehicle with which to communicate weather and climate concepts to multiple non-technical audiences. The communication of complex weather and climate concepts is a well-documented challenge. One method to bridge between science concepts and public understanding is to relate those concepts to familiar subjects and stories, including Laura Ingalls Wilder's books. A narrative constructed around the books, particularly The Long Winter, provides a means of audience engagement and interest in weather- and climate-related topics, which was at least partially quantified by surveying audiences of the narrative. Overall, the scientific background, combined with a familiar narrative voice, provides a means to transmit weather and climate

Subject Area

Climate Change|Communication|Atmospheric sciences

Recommended Citation

Boustead, Barbara E, "The hard winter of 1880-1881: Climatological context and communication via a Laura Ingalls Wilder narrative" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3632461.