The Halloween storm of 1991, which brought 1 inch to 3 inches of freezing rain to southern Minnesota and more than 3 feet of snow in other parts of the state, caught many people off-guard.
Ice, coupled with powerful winds, snapped electric poles like toothpicks and caused thousands to be without power for several days as temperatures plunged toward zero. Utilities rushed in from around the country to restore power as quickly as possible.
The loss of human life was minimal, which was not the case during the fiercest blizzards that ravaged North Dakota.
Historians identify the School House Blizzard (so named because school students were stranded in their classrooms) of January 1888; the March 1920 storm that killed more than 30 people; and a blizzard in 1966 during which winds reached 100 mph as among the worst in state history.
Minnesota and North Dakota share in the great Armistice Day storm of 1940, which cost hundreds of human lives and devastated livestock operations across the Midwest. The day of Nov. 11 began with record-warm temperatures reaching 65 degrees. Duck hunters headed out early to take advantage of the nice weather.
As the day wore on, temperatures dropped by more than 50 degrees, winds spiked to 80 mph, and snow amounts reached more than two feet in many areas. Approximately 150 people died across the Midwest, and thousands of grazing livestock also perished.
Weather forecasters completely missed predicting the storm. The U.S. Weather Bureau took the brunt of the criticism, and in response overhauled the agency. Prior to the storm, daily forecasts came from a Chicago office. Afterward, the responsibility was spread out to new offices across the Midwest that regularly updated forecasts.
The Halloween storm of 1991 surprised many people, including our household. We had welcomed a son two months before. Without power, he was kept warm with layer upon layer of blankets in the bassinette. Because her parents had not lost power, Kathy suggested that we cart the family to their home. However, because the gravel and tar roads were ice skating rinks, it was much safer to hunker down at home.
The supply of Similac quickly ran out, which made a 10-mile treacherous trek to the store unavoidable. The rear-wheel drive vehicle tried and failed to conquer a hill, but the journey was nonetheless successful.
Another challenge awaited — the hogs in the shed needed water, which could be provided only by drawing it from the creek in five-gallon buckets. The creek embankment was steep and slippery, which made it nearly impossible to climb with full pails. I tried and failed three times before managing to cart half-full buckets uphill.
It goes without saying that the challenges were paltry in comparison with milking 40 cows without machines after a loss of power. I had mostly unsuccessfully tried to do that in the Super Bowl blizzard of Jan. 9-12, 1975. That storm started with lightning and thunder and wind, before switching to heavy snow. The giant storm sparked several tornadoes in the south, delivered more than 2 feet of snow in parts of Minnesota, and caused an estimated $20 million in damage.
Milking one cow the old-fashioned way is easy; milking several by hand is nearly impossible because fingers and hands quickly tire, and cows become ornery. Finding milk storage was nearly impossible. The milk cans that were used before the bulk tank and stored in the shed were rusty and few other containers were big enough.
The storm’s three days seemed to stretch for an entire week. At least the milk hauler and the electric cooperative were appreciated more than ever when the farm routine returned to normal.
The tale of the Super Bowl storm and others have been retold around the dinner table dozens of times since.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.