It was 90 years ago today that one of the worst blizzards in modern times was moving through the region. It started as a weak Alberta Clipper that moved along the Rocky Mountains, reformed in Colorado and moved northeast into Minnesota. The blizzard started late in the day on February 12, and was at peak intensity in this area the next day. Although Fargo had a recorded snow depth of 7 inches, many other areas nearby had little to no snow cover.
The fierce wind in excess of 50 mph picked up dirt and mixed it in with the snow. The storm became known as the “Black Dust Blizzard” because of the black snow (snirt) that was spread well east into Minnesota and Wisconsin from the exposed soils in North Dakota.
Sadly, at least 20 deaths were blamed on the blizzard just in this area alone. Most died of exposure caught off guard by the rapidly changing conditions and bitterly cold temperatures that moved in with the storm.
This is one of many storms I will be talking about in my communiversity course coming up in March (the first three Sunday’s of the month) when I take a look at the significant weather events to impact this area. Here is a link for information on my course:
The strong wind that accompanied the arctic cold front that moved through the area on Saturday, not only brought cold and blowing snow, but also a layer of snirt. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, snirt is a mixture of dirt and snow.
The lack of snow cover in the area has left many of the fields partially exposed. That allowed the strong wind on Saturday to pick up some dirt that mixed in with the blowing snow. Although not all areas have a noticeable brown hue to the snow, but the areas that do, it is most noticeable on the tops of the drifts. The past two decades have recorded so many snowy winters that snirt is a word that has not been used much, but historically dirty snow was much more common.
The famed “Super Bowl Blizzard” of 1975 that crippled much of Minnesota did not drop much snow locally, but the wind was so fierce that houses were covered in so much snirt that in North Dakota it was referenced as the “Black Blizzard”.
A year ago the area was bracing for what looked like to be back to back blizzards. The two storms, one on December 30 and the other on December 31 kept most of the areas roads closed over the New Year holiday and made travel hazardous even within Fargo Moorhead.
The first storm started off with freezing rain putting down a layer of ice before the wind and the snow started later in the morning. Wind gusts well above 40 mph reduced visibility to just a few feet at times. The following day, December 31, allowed a few hours of digging out before the second storm arrived that afternoon.
Although, not technically a blizzard in the southern valley, the wind still gusted frequently over 30 mph making going out for New Year’s Eve nearly impossible. In the end, 10 inches of new snow fell with those two storms, making the start of 2011 a miserable one for most.
Fifteen years ago today, the first blizzard of what was arguably the worst winter on record locally, struck the Red River Valley. The snow arrived during the early afternoon, which was a Saturday in 1996. The snow and wind forced Hector Airport to close quickly that afternoon and both I-29 and I-94 were both closed at 10 pm.
A total of five inches had accumulated by midnight, but it continued to snow the rest of the night and into the following morning. The wind gusted to over 40 mph at times during the event and did not settle down enough to reopen the main roads until late the following day. In total, 13.5 inches fell, not including 2 inches that fell the day before the storm, with drifts 3-4 feet high.
The winter of 1996-1997 brought a total of 8 blizzards to Fargo Moorhead, with other parts of the area recording as many as10 blizzards that winter.
Last week was the anniversary to many famous blizzards that have struck the Great Plains in the past 150 years. These include the ?Pioneer Blizzard? of January 10, 1873, the Children?s Blizzard of January 12, 1888, and more recently an unnamed 3 day blizzard from January 9-11 in 1997.
A blizzard I remember very well that occurred in the middle of January was the so-called ?Storm of the Century? that peaked around January 10, 1975. That storm dumped over 20 inches of snow with wind gusts reported over 70 mph in parts of Minnesota. Locally, we received 6 inches of snow from that blizzard.
That particular storm caused many Minnesotans to miss the Vikings play in the Super Bowl that year because of power outages and therefore the storm is sometimes referred to as the ?Super Bowl Blizzard?. My family was fortunate enough to have power that weekend which meant I watched the Vikings play as poorly as the weather was outside against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
By definition a blizzard is a period of 3 hours or longer with a wind speed of 35 mph or frequently gusting to 35 mph or greater dropping visibility to 1/4 mi or less in blowing snow. Last week we had two storms systems with wind and blowing snow, but only one of them ended up meeting that criteria.
The first storm last Thursday into Thursday night easily fell into that category. The gusts in storm one were well into the 40s reducing visibility to just a few feet at times. The second storm, at least in Fargo, did not have quite the bunch of the first storm. The peak gust was only 37 mph and gusts at or above 35 mph were only occasional.
Although that storm may not have reached the true definition of a blizzard, the weather in open areas was still terrible, making travel very difficult or impossible. Plus, a definition is just that, a definition, and technically correct or not, both storms will likely always be referred to as blizzards.
The snowstorm that hit the east coast hard this past weekend produced some record setting snow amounts. Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia all broke their all-time daily snowfall record for the month of December. Baltimore’s total was 21 inches with Washington, D.C. ending with 16 inches. Philadelphia’s official total of 23.2 inches of snow was also the second highest snow total in the city from a single storm since records began in the 1880s.
There was another city in the United States that had huge amounts of snow recently that has gone largely unnoticed. Last week, Valdez, Alaska, received 68 inches of snow from a single event that lasted several days. That is 5 feet, 8 inches of snow. Snow was falling at a rate of 4 inches per hour at the height of the storm, yet, according to the local paper, the schools in town never shut down. Although, a few buses did get stuck.
On October 15-16, 1880 one of the earliest blizzards ever recorded struck eastern South Dakota, southwestern Minnesota and northwestern Iowa with wind gusts over 60 mph, heavy snow and drifts over 15 feet high. That storm was made famous by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her book “The Long Winter” as the October Blizzard.
Since that storm nearly 130 years ago, significant October snows have been rare. There was the Halloween Blizzard of 1991 covering much of Minnesota, perhaps being the one exception, although more fell on November 1 than on Halloween. In our area the last significant October snow was on October 24, 2001 when 5.4 inches was recorded. That one storm also placed October 2001 as the second snowiest October on record.
The snowiest October on record was back in 1951 when 8.1 inches fell during a storm on October 29-30. So although snow in October is common significant snowfall is not.