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Nature, despite all her splendor, can kill or bring one to the edge of death through her floods, famines, hurricanes, and blizzards. North Dakota is known for its devastating floods and lethal blizzards.

What about these killer blizzards?

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary makes an attempt at defining the word blizzard. 1. “A long severe snowstorm.” 2. “An intensely strong cold wind filled with fine snow” 3. “An overwhelming rush or deluge.

None of these definitions comes close to the tales of those who have lived through a North Dakota blizzard.

Years back weather forecasting was not as accurate as it is today. That was a time when mother nature could present herself as calm, warm, and even sometimes balmy, only to change her mood in a matter of minutes without any warning.

We were caught in one of these traps some years ago. We had been working at our retreat center which was about 19 miles from Grand Forks. Our son also drove out that morning to help us with some maintenance problems. It was a calm and exceptionally beautiful morning. 

Finishing the work about 11:00 a.m. we got in our two cars and made our way up the hill and out of the valley where our center was located. We hadn’t more than locked the gate behind us when the wind began to blow fiercely and the snow came down so furiously that we had all we could do to find our way out of the lane and onto the major highway leading back to Grand Forks. 

We had small vehicles and the snow blowing under, around, and into the engines, caused our motors to hesitate and miss. We recall thinking of how we needed to get back to town, because that evening there was a University Of North Dakota hockey game.

We were following our son when we noticed that he was pulling over to what seemed like the edge of the road, and stopping. We stopped and fought through the blizzard to find our way to his door. “The engine is barely running,” he said. We yelled, “Keep going as long as you can. There is a little village about two miles up ahead; let’s try to make it to there.”

We fought our way back to the car and proceeded on with our faltering engines. It took us about an hour to go those two miles. It was a miracle that we made it. We managed to find our way to the little restaurant, shut off our sputtering engines, wrap ourselves in our light coats, and trudge up to the door. There were five people sitting in a booth, and we went over to talk with them. “We're staying put,” they said. “The highway department has blocked all passages to Grand Forks.” “We’re staying here and waiting out the storm.”

We ordered a cup of hot coffee and sat there thinking about just how lucky we were to have reached this little restaurant. Having read many times about the devastation these blizzards could wield, we sat there quietly thanking God that He had spared our lives. 

We sat there for hours and late that night we realized that there was a small motel attached to the restaurant, and we asked if there were any rooms vacant. “We have one,” the owner, said. The three of us took it. 

We hardly slept at all that night. The wind was howling. At times it seemed as if the room was shaking. Some cables attached to the building thumped continually in the fierce winds. A fine spray of snow wisped through the edges of the windows. Snow managed to force itself through some cracks around the entrance door. Frost accumulated on the door handle. 

The howl of the wind was horribly terrifying, and in spite of wearing coats, caps, and mittens, and covering ourselves with every available blanket, we were still cold. And the sound haunted and chilled us to the very core of our bones.

After a nearly sleepless night, dawn came late that next morning, and with it a chilling silence--the storm was over. We were relieved, knowing that these fierce blizzards could go on for days.

It was about 1:00 p.m. when we were able to shovel the hard frozen drifts away to allow the local garage man to pull his pickup alongside our frozen vehicles to jump-start them

About 2:00 p.m. the highway department opened the highway, and we slowly made our way back to Grand Forks.

Vehicles, dozens of them, were buried haphazardly along the highway. Normally these Eastern North Dakota Highways were straight, but following the path of the plow was a different experience for us. We were meandering in and out of the frozen vehicles that the storm had paralyzed. 

And we wondered, “What happened to all of these people? Were they rescued?”

This was a rather short-lived blizzard as compared to some. Here’s a brief summary of the lethal storms that hit North Dakota and Minnesota.

1. On January 11, 1888, at least 200 people died; 109 of the fatalities occurred in the Dakota Territory when winds of 50 mph whipped snowfall across the upper Midwest. Many of the victims were teachers and students trapped in rural schools. The driver and passengers of a stagecoach that traveled between Bismarck and Washburn perished in the storm. In some places temperatures dropped 50 degrees in twelve hours.

2. On March 15, 1920, there were 34 casualties, including eight school children, in a storm that lasted for three days with 70 mph winds. This was the storm in which sixteen-year-old Hazel Miner sacrificed her life and saved the lives of her younger brother and sister.
On November 11, 1940, a snowstorm struck suddenly and killed 56 Minnesotans, mainly waterfowl hunters caught out in the field. This storm is known as the “Armistice Day” blizzard.

3. On March 15, 1941, 71 individuals (40 in North Dakota and 31 in Minnesota) lost their lives in a storm. That was one of the most deadly storms in North Dakota’s history.

4. In February 1946, seven people died in a severe winter storm.

5. Between March 2nd and 5th, 1966, fifteen people died in a storm that stalled trains and left 30-foot-high snow drifts. The National Weather Service said this storm lashed towns and open country into a single “drifted wasteland.”

6. In January 10-11, 1975, thirty-six inhabitants of the area were killed in what the Weather Service called “the blizzard of the century,” while others named it the “black blizzard.”

7. On February, 1984, a winter storm claimed 22 lives in North Dakota and Minnesota.

This is the storm we experienced.

 

 



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