Big October Snow

The snowstorm that hit North Dakota this October 4 was certainly not the earliest snowstorm in state history, but it was notable for its ferocity.

It began snowing in Dickinson in the early evening of the 3rd. Reports out of there had the total at 15" by morning. The heavy, wet snow took down tree limbs still covered with yellow leaves and power outages were a problem.

Through the night and early morning hours of the 4th, the snow slowly creeped eastward. Thundershowers dropped 1.76" of rain on Fargo after midnight. Heavy storms produced up to 9" of rain in southern Minnesota and nearly 5" at the Minneapolis airport station.

As the low became stacked vertically, the surface low stalled over eastern North Dakota near Grand Forks, where it sat all day, pulling mild air northward. During the afternoon, Fargo’s wind shifted to SSW and the temperature warmed to 53`.

Meanwhile, north-central North Dakota was getting hammered with 8" to 18" of snow that, again, broke branches and snapped power lines around Minot and Devils Lake (and places in between). Another 0.02" of rain fell on Fargo.

During the evening of the 4th, as the low wound itself up and began to creep northeastward toward northwest Minnesota, blizzard-force winds developed across the Devils Lake basin. Wind peaked at 45 mph with a gust to 52 at the Devils Lake airport. The National Weather Service issued a Blizzard Warning for the Devils Lake area at that time. Later in the evening, the Blizzard Warning area was expanded to include most of northeastern North Dakota north and west of Grand Forks.

A narrow deformation-zone snow line developed mid-evening and began spreading southward, reaching northern Barnes county around 9 PM. As this band rotated around the surface low, it brought brief blowing snow conditions to much of the region north of Fargo at some point during the night.

Of course, this was not a "freak" storm. I don’t believe in that term. A similar snowstorm hit north-central and northeast North Dakota on October 7-8, 1985. That was my first North Dakota snowstorm as I had just moved to Fargo and WDAY-WDAZ in May of that year.

Just like this year, Fargo was on the southeast edge of that storm and received just a trace of snow, but my memory tells me there was 14" in Velva and 12" in Minot that time. This storm was a little heavier and had stronger winds… but clearly snowstorms in early October in North Dakota are not a sign of doom… It’s just another tale to tell of a part of the world that is famous for weather extremes.

96 Responses

  1. ralphieund

    Whats more amazing is that parts of Southwest North Dakota just had a large late spring snowstorm on may 12th, so the non-snow season in some parts of nd was less than 5 months.
    Maybe Jon can answer this, but I heard thunder on Monday night, how often is it for Fargo to get thunderstorms in October?

  2. John Wheeler

    Thunder in October isn’t all that weird. A few years ago, there was a tornado in Burleigh County (near Bismarck) in early November.


    John speaking of snow storms,I remember one in early or mid October of 1995, that was just South of the FM area and put down a good amount of snow in NE,SD over into the Fergus Falls area of MN,we were living in Fargo then and I remember all we had was a few flurries, heavy snow area stayed just to the South and East because of cold dry high pressure right over the area.


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