Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Armistice Day Blizzard

            The weather always seems to be an important topic of discussion in Minnesota.  I have been living here less than two months, people continue to tell me about the fierce winters of the upper Midwest.  Yet, one example of the fierce weather is all I need to appreciate the severity of the climate and the hardiness of the people that live here.

Undated photo.  Snow drift north of Elk River
SCHC collection 1990.201.068

            The Armistice Day Blizzard, seventy years ago, on 11 November 1940 more than two feet of snow fell in some parts of Minnesota.  The storm hit so quickly and covered such a large geographic area, that 154 people were killed, many of them were hunters taking advantage of what seemed to be unseasonable warm weather for a day of duck hunting on the lakes and on the Mississippi River.  The storms killed people in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois.  Of the 49 people killed in Minnesota by the storm, more than half were hunters.

            The day started with very warm weather.  The high was recorded at 60 degrees.  Many hunters saw this as the last opportunity of the season to go out on the Mississippi River and get some hunting done.  But the storms blew in quickly.  At times the wind was recorded at 80 miles per hour.  The snow came, and caught many people on the open roads and open water.  By the time it was done, 27 inches had fallen and snow drifts as high as twenty feet were recorded.

            In Sherburne County, when the storms came, schools were dismissed.  At the Big Lake School, country buses loaded with children headed out to deliver them safely home.  When one bus did not return, search parties were organized and the worst was expected.  Men of the search parties were forced to use skis to search the roads.  After six hours of searching four miles of road, the children were found, safely sheltered at the Waterfield farm.

            In Elk River search parties using horses and sleds, barely survived the search.  Stories published in All Hell Broke Loose, William Henry Hull describe rescue parties as returning safely to their homes, barely able to walk.  “They were holding on to the horse reins and harnesses to keep from falling.  Had the horses been unable to find their way back, they would surely have perished,” the author wrote.

            Clearly, weather is a topic worthy of serious discussion in Minnesota.  Even today, in the twenty-first century the snow of the upper Midwest is an important consideration in daily life.  I hope I am prepared for the coming winter.  But, I also hope that another storm like the Armistice Day Blizzard never strikes again.

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