Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

Real People. Real Jobs. Real Adventures.

Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Which blizzard do you recall?...

Posted 1/12/21 (Tue)

There’s one thing we can be certain of here in North Dakota and that’s wind.

We get it in the spring, summer, fall and winter. We get it when it’s hot, we get it when it’s cold, but when we need it, such as clearing away smoke from a distant forest fire, it’s calm for days at a time.

We all know what happens when it snows with the wind blowing. We get what they call “blizzard-like” conditions. What exactly does that mean? Why not just call it a blizzard because that’s what it is, right?

There have been a lot of memorable blizzards (not good memories) that have struck in the history of this state and I can’t imagine what must have happened before records were kept back in territorial days and before.

The crazy thing is, you can do a little light research and find the worst of the worst dating back to 1897 up to 1997.

What makes one blizzard worse than any other? After all, a blizzard is a blizzard. It’s cold, usually dark and always dangerous.

Various statistics about those snapshots in time make this an arguable topic. But some of them can’t be disputed. One of them is the blizzard of 1966, from March 2-6.

Five people died in that blizzard that dumped up to 30 inches of snow creating drifts as high as 20 feet in some places. It paralyzed all of the state except for the northwestern corner.

It also had tremendous economic impact. Official records indicate that 74,500 cattle, 54,000 sheep and 2,400 hogs perished in that storm.

Some of them were in open fields and the heavy snow blinded them, they walked into fences and died while others suffocated as snow piled in around them.

There was a stretch of property in Burleigh County, from Sterling to Wing, that had dead cattle scattered about, frozen in place, with drifted snow up around their frozen carcasses.

That storm also stranded 500 train passengers in New Salem. Ironically, two babies were born and survived during the blizzard.

The Jan. 12, 1888, blizzard destroyed what was left of the open range cattle industry in North Dakota and killed 112 people.

The blizzard of March 15, 1941 came through quickly and with little warning. Thirty-nine people perished, most of them trapped in their cars.

Many of us remember a photograph in the Fargo Forum that was taken after the Feb. 4, 1984 blizzard in which four people died, trapped in their cars on 19th Avenue North in Fargo just to the east of Hector Field.

On April 4, 1997, blizzard Hannah named by the Grand Forks Herald, struck eastern North Dakota, western Minnesota and southern Manitoba, dealing a blow to anyone along the Red River trying to fight a flood that was already becoming catastrophic from numerous blizzards and snow pack during the winter of 1996-97.

Three weeks after that blizzard struck, the Red River flooded and the city of 50,000 was evacuated.

It has been said that 100,000 cattle were lost in that storm.

In every one of those blizzards, heavy snow and hurricane force winds caused massive destruction and fatalities.

But historians agree that the worst blizzard in North Dakota’s history happened on March 15, 1920.

It’s considered the worst in the state’s history because 34 people died in that storm and created white out conditions that prevailed for three days.

Telephone and electrical lines were down, cattle, hogs and horses froze to death and that was the same blizzard that killed Hazel Miner as she tried to save her classmates near Center.

Among the victims, in addition to Hazel Miner were Adolph, Ernest, Soren, and Herman Wohlk. After the blizzard cleared, people found Hazel’s frozen body huddled over the other students in an effort to generate her body heat to the other students.

 Also killed were a young mother, Mrs. Andrew Whitehead; Charles Hutchins, north of Douglas; the 12-year-old son of Matt Yashenko, who lived five miles south of Ruso; and “Chicken Pete” Johnson, a Minot eccentric, who was found dead in his dug-out on South Hill in Minot.

North Dakota has had major winter storms as early as mid September and as late as mid May, but the worst of them, statistically, have happened in the months of January, February and March.

Weather forecasting has gotten a lot better in recent years but don’t take it for granted in winter because it can change rapidly.