The story so far: On November 28, 1939, 75 years ago, a thick, black smoke covered St. Louis, turning day into night, snarling traffic and angering and shocking residents. A Smoke Elimination Committee was created and it met through January and into February sorting out its limited options for finagling cleaning the city’s air. Its report in late February proposed that all residents and businesses buy more expensive fuel that caused less pollution. The question now was whether the city government, and then the city’s residents, would comply.
By Bob Wyss
Spring was delayed.
In some portions of greater St. Louis maple and elm trees had been blooming now for more than 10 days. That was not the situation, however, in the center of the city.
The Weather Bureau reported that fog and smoke had darkened the city during its daylight hours to a greater extent than anytime in 46 years. Sunshine was present less than one-third of all daylight hours in February.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which ran a regular weather feature on its front page called the Weatherbird, was now calling the city Soot Louis, Mo.
Edgar Anderson, a botany professor at Washington University, blamed the failure of the trees to bloom in central St. Louis to the smoke. He said it was not just the lack of sunlight that was a problem, but also that without sun those areas of the city were colder.
In some respects, this was not new. The coal smoke had so clouded St. Louis that the city was often a week or more behind the rest of St. Louis County in greeting Spring.
It was just that the pollution had been so harsh this year that it was going to take nature longer to recover.