Fort Keogh’s winters were nothing short of surreal in the late 1880s. In 1888, the temperature at the fort dropped to -65F, the national record low at that time. When Illinois’ Sterling Evening Gazette heard the news, they responded thusly: “Let her have it. We don’t envy it a bit.”
It was a strange weather phenomenon, but not nearly as bizarre as what was reported the year prior. On January 28, 1887, a storm blew into Fort Keogh, and while residents would have been more-or-less accustomed to blizzards at this point—the winter had been an unnaturally harsh one—this storm was different. This storm dropped snowflakes the size of kittens.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, a nearby rancher claimed the snowflakes were “larger than milk pans,” supposedly measuring at fifteen inches across and eight inches thick!
While no other evidence was provided to support the rancher’s claim, Guinness nonetheless accepted it.
Since then, there has been much debate about whether or not the record has merit. From a scientific standpoint, it seems unlikely, though it is not completely without precedence. Large snowflakes—generally two to six inches wide—are reported surprisingly often around the globe.
“Some of these things can be very, very rare, but not impossible,” says Dr. Kenneth Libbrecht, a physics professor and author of several books on the science of snow.
He suggests that based on the laws of physics, there are no obvious size restrictions on snowflakes, though wind and other factors would likely break such a fragile structure.
“Who knows?” he says, “It’s not out of the question.”