Weather Forecast


One for the books: Recalling blizzards of winters past

Jonathan Melendez (left) and Jose Gonzalez Garcia (right) shovel snow from the roof of a garage at 802 Third Ave. Christmas Day, while Guillermo Balderas (center) assists using a snowblower. (KARI LUCIN/DAILY GLOBE)

WORTHINGTON -- A list of Minnesota winter storms compiled by the Minnesota Climatology Work Group dates back to 1835 and chronicles drastic temperature drops, high winds, blinding snow and lives lost.

According to the list, a severe storm in 1835 caused 19 shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, killing 254 sailors. In 1870, the first winter storm warning was issued by the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

A March storm in 1870 swept through northern Iowa and southwest Minnesota, dropping 16 inches on snow and documenting the first use of the word "blizzard" in an Estherville, Iowa, newspaper. The term was picked up by the U.S. Army Signal Corps Weather Service in 1876.

In 1873, Jan. 7 started as a mild day in Minnesota, with people active outside. A blizzard struck, causing drastic temperature changes. Hundreds of cattle were lost, along with 70 human deaths.

In October 1880, a storm struck southwest and west central Minnesota, leaving behind 20-foot drifts in Canby that lasted until the next spring.

Jan. 12, 1888, also started as a mild day, with children at school and people working outside. An abrupt cold wave struck with blinding snow, and the temperature dropped to minus-37 degrees. Children were sent home early from school, but many died. Deaths in Minnesota totaled 200.

Duluth experienced 70- mile-per-hour winds in 1892, with snow piled so high it covered second-story windows. In Park Rapids, the temperature dropped 40 degrees in several hours in 1893.

A Thanksgiving Day storm in southern Minnesota caught travelers unaware in 1896. In October 1916, the temperature plummeted 50 degrees during a blizzard that left behind 15 inches of snow in western Minnesota. Shortly after the new year began in 1921, blizzard conditions in southern Minnesota counties included 59-mile-per-hour winds that blew snow and soil across the land. In 1923, a black dust blizzard was documented in February, with dirty snow blowing into the state from North Dakota. Ten years later in November, dust storms blew through southern and central Minnesota counties, bringing about near-zero visibility.

On Nov. 11, 1940, the Armistice Day Blizzard changed the mild day to a nightmare. Hunting season was in full swing when the storm hit, killing 49 duck hunters who were unprepared and exposed on the Mississippi River islands. Fifty-nine sailors lost their lives on the Great Lakes.

A blizzard that claimed 32 lives in 1941 prompted the Weather Service to refine the forecast regional responsibilities. Minnesota had formerly been under the jurisdiction of the Chicago, Ill. Office, but after the blizzards of 1940 and 1941, Minnesota acquired the responsibility to dictate its own forecast and procedures.

In 1958, a blizzard with 60- mile-per-hour winds killed 33 men when the Carl D. Bradley sank on Lake Michigan. Two years later, a severe blizzard hammered the Lake Superior shoreline, producing 20- to 40-foot waves that destroyed shoreline property. Three feet of water flooded the streets of Grand Marais, winds gusted to 73 miles per hour and Duluth recorded more than a foot of snowfall. Thousands of cords of pulpwood washed into Lake Superior.

A short-lived, fast-moving blizzard in January 1967 resulted in seven deaths in Minnesota. Some of the deaths were attributed to snow shoveling.

In January 1972, a fierce blizzard struck in southwest Minnesota. In Worthington, gusts of wind as high as 72 miles per hour were recorded and up to 10 inches of snow fell. Schools were closed, yet several buses were stranded. Occupants sought shelter in farm homes.

Three years later, in January 1975, a strong blizzard closed most of the roads in the state, some for 11 days. There were 20-foot snow drifts, a train was stuck at Willmar, and more than 15,000 head of livestock was lost. Winds gusted up to 80 miles per hour as the storm intensified across the state. Fourteen people died in the blizzard, and an additional 21 died from heart attacks.

On Nov. 19, 1981, heavy snow with near blizzard conditions dropped a foot of wet snow on the roof of the Metrodome, causing the inflated fabric to rip and the dome to collapse.

Sixteen people died after being stranded in vehicles and fish houses when a blizzard in southern Minnesota carried 80-mile-per-hour winds and a wall of white. Snowfall totals were only a few inches, but the wind chills were severe.

On Nov. 26, 1988, just 10 days after the state had dug out from 11 inches on snow, a blizzard struck most of the state, with winds reaching 63 miles per hour in Windom and snow drifting seven feet high.

The Halloween Blizzard of 1991 lasted almost four days and dropped more than 28 inches on snow in some parts of the state. It brought nasty wind chill conditions and deep snow drifts that were harsh on wildlife. Many roads were closed for days.

And, in what will surely become known as the Christmas Blizzard of 2009, travel plans were interrupted, many areas of the state ground to a halt, and more than 15 inches of snow fell in southern Minnesota.