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Remembering the Halloween Blizzard of 1991

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The neighborhood digs out along East Seventh Street in Duluth on Nov. 4, 1991, after the Halloween Blizzard dropped more than 36 inches of snow on the city, snarling business and travel for days. Monday is the 25th anniversary of the start of the storm. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 8
UMD student Chris Rofidal's station wagon (right) and his roommate Brett Davis' Mustang were buried by snow while parked along East 11th Street in Duluth during the 1991 Halloween Blizzard. (Photo courtesy of Chris Rofidal)3 / 8
Gerald Knapp begins the tough task of snowblowing his daughter Debbie's driveway on Nanticoke Street in Duluth's Piedmont Heights neighborhood after the 1991 Halloween Blizzard, with the snow nearly as high as the snowblower. (Photo courtesy of Debbie O'Connor)4 / 8
A group of current and former UMD students didn’t let the heavy snow deter them from enjoying an afternoon in a hot tub at a home on Second Street on Nov. 1, 1991. Clockwise from far right are Kris Simon, Mike Erickson, Brenda Berglund, Cal Matten, Dennis Karp, Jay Lyle, Becky Sunnarberg, Aaron Stoskopf and Eric Rajala. (Dave Ballard / News Tribune file photo)5 / 8
Jack Ryan received some help from passersby as he tried to move his car in front of his home along East Sixth Street in Duluth on Nov. 1, 1991, in the middle of the Halloween Blizzard. They tried to move the car into the street and then tried to move it back into its parking spot, unsuccessfully. (Dave Ballard / News Tribune file photo)6 / 8
Drew and JR Armstrong of Duluth found it no problem to climb atop the family car amid heavy snow on Nov. 1, 1991, in the midst of the Halloween Blizzard that started 25 years ago. They were trying to help clear it off. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)7 / 8
Rachel Armstrong of Duluth braved winds and snow in an attempt to shovel out her car as heavy snow continued to fall in the region on Nov. 1, 1991, during the Halloween Blizzard. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)8 / 8

It started snowing on Halloween night and didn’t stop for four days. The Halloween Blizzard. The Megastorm. The big one. Thundersnow and gale-force winds and plummeting temperatures.

It was 25 years ago that the massive weather system started dumping ice and snow in the Northland. The storm affected an area from Iowa across Minnesota and into Northwestern Wisconsin, but Duluth was hit the hardest — a still-standing, single-storm record of 36.9 inches. Much of Minnesota saw one to two feet of snow.

The snowstorm that started on a Thursday night affected nearly everyone's life. It was impossible for most people to get to work on Friday or Saturday. It took hours for people to shovel out their vehicles. It took days to open most streets. By Friday night travel in any direction became improbable if not impossible.

The storm was blamed even for impacting the city’s mayoral election the following Tuesday, with allegations that some neighborhoods were plowed out sooner so those people could vote.

It affected the Minnesota firearms deer hunting opener a week later, with some hunters unable to get to their hunting shacks without snowshoes or skis; some hunters just gave up, unable to even walk in their favorite woods.

Across the Upper Midwest, the ice and snow and wind and cold was blamed for 22 deaths and 100 injuries. Tens of thousands of people remained without electricity for days. Commerce ground to a halt.

But perhaps the most enduring memories from those crazy days were how much people dug in to help each other, and the crazy ways people devised to get where they needed to go. People shoveled out neighbors’ impassable front doors and buried cars. They snowshoed or skied to get milk, diapers and bread. Snowmobiles traversed city streets for fun and to offer serious aid. Somehow, liquor stores and bars reported brisk business.

And when the snow finally stopped on Sunday and everyone came out to shovel, some blocks had an almost carnival-like atmosphere of camaraderie, of shared experience. By Monday, it was back to work, back to school, back to normal for most of us — except for the stories and the memories.

And every time it starts snowing in October, even a little, those memories come blowing back in.

 

— JOHN MYERS, NEWS TRIBUNE

-----The News Tribune asked readers to share their stories and memories of the 1991 Halloween blizzard. Here are some of the stories we received:
 Married in a blizzard

Debbie and Sean O'Connor pose for a photo in snowy Duluth on their wedding day. (Photo courtesy of Debbie O'Connor)I was married during the 1991 Halloween storm!  

On Nov. 2, we were stuck in each of our homes as we announced the cancellation of our wedding over the radio. The next day, Sunday, Nov. 3, an ambulance had to get to our neighbor's house. So a plow went by and allowed us to get out. We called our wedding party to get ready. We had to pick up a couple of our bridesmaids on the way to Gloria Dei Lutheran Church because they weren't plowed out yet.

We ended up having all of our attendants present minus one of our two flower girls. When I was ready to walk down the aisle, I expected only my immediate family to be there. I was shocked to find out that 180 people came!

We had to cancel the reception hall, so we had no food. Only our wedding cake. The women of the church came and during the wedding prepared sandwiches for our guests. We had the reception in the basement.

After the wedding, everyone had to leave early to get back because the roads were bad. After pictures, I came down to find only 10 people remained. We put in a cassette tape of our favorite song and had our first dance as a married couple.

 

Debbie O'Connor and her husband Sean moved to Alaska, where he was stationed with the Air Force, right after the wedding. After another stop in Arizona, they moved back home to Duluth in 2000. Sean currently serves at the 148th Fighter Wing.

Videos, beer and pizza

We were students at UMD when the storm hit. It started on a Thursday night and by Friday school was canceled.

My roommate Brett Davis and I rented a house on 11th Street across from Grant Elementary School (now Myers-Wilkins Elementary). I remember taking turns with him trying to shovel the driveway and shovel our cars out — it was a total disaster.  Beyond that we did what every good college kid does: We walked to the liquor store, the video store down on Fourth Street to rent movies and to House of Donuts to get the best subs in Duluth.

I vividly remember Brett carrying a 24-pack through the snow, a man on a mission. Lots of walking in waist-deep snow but once we got our supplies we hunkered down for the weekend.   

I remember that on Tuesday of the next week it snowed again — not a lot, but because of the prior storm UMD closed again.  What did we do? Videos, beer and pizza! Good times and great memories.

 

Chris Rofidal graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1992 and now lives in Edina, Minn.

The front page of the Nov. 2, 1991 Duluth News Tribune. Snowstorm delivery

This was a memorable storm for the Meyer family. I was pregnant and took my 3-year-old daughter, Emily, trick-or-treating on Halloween night.  It had begun to snow and the tail of Emily's Little Mermaid costume was leaving a trail as we walked through the neighborhood. Most businesses were closed on Friday, Nov. 1, due to the continuing snowfall, so we were home that entire day.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, Nov. 2, I went into labor. Since the streets and our driveway were completely impassable, my husband, Ron, called 911. Five emergency vehicles responded to the call: a police car, fire truck, snowplow, an ambulance and a sanding truck.  No sirens were needed because there was no other traffic on the roads! We got to St. Luke's hospital around 5 a.m., which was plenty of time as Amy Nicole wasn't born until 1:13 p.m. The maternity floor was completely full because no one had been able to leave in the previous two days. Dr. Niles Batdorf delivered Amy, but had to get to the hospital from his home in Lakeside on his cross-country skis.

The following May I was taking my two daughters for a walk one sunny morning when a city street cleaner stopped at the end of the driveway. The driver looked at the baby in the stroller and asked if she was the one born during the Halloween Blizzard. I answered, "Yes," and he went on to say he had been the snowplow driver that night.

Now, twenty-five years later, Amy (nicknamed "Stormy" by some family members) is a college graduate and working as an RN in a hospital in Fargo.

 

Barb Meyer lives in Duluth.

Skiing down Hammond Avenue

I had just got my driver’s license the day it started snowing; I picked all my friends up that night and we went to a movie.

We got out of the movie and the streets were slippery. I safely brought everyone home and parked the car in the backyard. My mom was really worried because I had just got my license and had never driven in slippery snow.  

The next day no one could get out of their driveways, so my next door neighbor — who was also a good friend — Sandy Larkin and I went cross-country skiing down Hammond Avenue, right down the middle of the street! It was a snow desert, no cars moving, and no one was out except for us and one other person with snowshoes.

It was an awesome weekend I will never forget.

 

Roxane Simenson recently moved back to the Twin Ports after 20 years in Madison, Wis.

To go home or not?

As a freshman at UMD in October of 1991, I was known on my floor in Griggs Hall as "Home Boy." That was because every weekend, I would go back home to Osceola, Wis., with my friend Kathy who was a freshman at St. Scholastica. We were the only two from our graduating class in Duluth and, like many freshmen, found ourselves homesick.

The morning of Oct. 31 I found myself in my weightlifting class listening to the DJ on KZIO going nuts about the snow that was headed our way. "Eight to 12 inches," he exclaimed.  We had no idea what was really coming.

As the day went on and the snow predictions increased, I was doubting that Kathy and I would be able to go home for the weekend. In fact, I told Kathy that I was OK with staying on campus and riding out the storm. Kathy, however, was adamant.  She had a boyfriend who was still in high school and NEEDED to get home. "My dad can put chains on his tires," she boasted. "I'm going home!"

Well, her dad did make it to Duluth. But they only made it as far as Cloquet, where they had to spend the weekend in a motel. I, however, spent the Halloween weekend with my friends from Griggs, skiing behind the dorms, jumping off the wall near the dining center into bottomless powder and basically having the time of our lives. "Home Boy" was becoming "College Man."

 

Zach Johns graduated from UMD in 1995 and now lives in Hibbing.

Snowed in at CSS

We were seniors at CSS (living on campus in the back apartments) and two of my roommates and the four girls who lived next door to us decided to walk through the snow to the Kenwood Shopping Center. The roads were pretty crappy so we didn’t want to risk driving.

We bought a sled at the Ben Franklin store, some snacks, a case of beer, and rented some movies (including the Star Wars trilogy). We loaded it all back onto the sled and made our way back to our apartment.

We spent the snowstorm weekend watching movies and playing games until Sunday, when we all went outside and helped shovel out our cars.  I remember that you couldn’t see any cars — there were just bumps in the parking lot as all the cars were completely covered with snow. Certainly made for a fun weekend — we all had a blast!

 

Joe Westerberg graduated from the College of St. Scholastica in 1993 and lives in Duluth.

A Halloween ‘trick’

I will never forget that night.

The heavy snow started falling in the afternoon of Halloween. In our small town of Carlton, the kids in our neighborhood start trick-or-treating around 4:30 p.m., just before dark. The first few kids came in their boots with the snow already starting and costumes covered with winter hats, coats and mittens.

The snow continued to come down even heavier. Between 5 and 5:30, parents came pulling their kids on sleds and toboggans. As minutes passed, very few trick-or-treaters were at my door.

Finally, by 6 p.m. two parents came on snowmobiles as the roads were too heavy with snow to drive any longer. After that it was a whiteout and time to close the door and end this Halloween for the trick-or-treaters two hours earlier than normal. This Halloween was a huge “trick” with only a few treaters.

It was time to be snowed in for four days straight, with no school or businesses open as plowing could not be done until the storm was over. Then the snowbanks were up to 10 feet high with so much snow to be piled up.

I wore a shirt for many years that had a mean pumpkin face on it with the saying, “I survived the Halloween Blizzard of 1991” with 36.9 inches of snow!

 

Connie Male lives near Carlton.

Welcoming ‘Stormy’

Linda Marie's granddaughter Tawna was born during the 1991 Halloween Blizzard. (Photo courtesy of Linda Marie)While most Minnesotans on that Halloween of 1991 were dashing to the store and then hunkering down at home before the storm hit, I left my cozy little dry warm home, 162 miles southwest of Duluth, and drove straight into the worst of it.

You see, my daughter, Lisa, was on her way to St. Luke’s hospital. I put the trick-or-treat candy away, turned off the lights, grabbed my sister and my Sorel boots, and headed out. Dark and already snowing, Sis hung her head out the passenger-side window to make sure I stayed on the road. Normally a just-under-three-hour trip, it took us a full six hours to reach Duluth.

Because Lisa lived on Lake Avenue, just up the hill from Superior Street, we first headed that direction. Knowing that wherever we parked, the car would end up snowed in, we looked for an off-street spot to leave it.

We managed to make it up the icy snowy hill as far as the Boys and Girls Club and parked in their lot, hoping that such a charitable organization would be so to us. Little did we know that would be the only car there for days, until we would eventually dig it out.

We bundled up and began our trek to the hospital, taking thankful advantage of the skywalk wherever we could. Upon arriving, we said hello to Lisa and then hit the couches in the waiting room.

A couple of hours later, my new granddaughter, Tawna, finally entered the world. We dubbed her “Stormy.”

 

Linda Marie lives in Clearwater, Minn.

Fun Halloween weekend

I was a freshman at the College of St. Scholastica. I was visiting UMD and hanging out with some friends at Halloween parties. My boyfriend (now husband) drove down to the Cities for a job interview in the early part of the storm.

We ended up having such a fun Halloween weekend complete with sliding down hills on dinner trays. I remember us thinking the snow would never melt, and where would it all go?  

Now our son is a freshman at UMD and we are wondering if a Halloween storm repeat is in the works!  

 

Kathy LaCasse lives in North St. Paul, Minn.

 A blessing from the storm

It's all my husband's fault. The night before the storm Steve prayed at supper that it would snow and snow and snow!

So we went for a walk Halloween night as the flakes were starting to come down. By the next day we were homebound just like all our neighbors. Guess what!? Nine months later we got a blessing named Rachel Mae.

There were no car seat to check out at St. Mary's hospital — so other people had the same idea as us! I can name five of my friends who had babies the same week I did.

Thank God for the megastorm. That little girl has now blessed us with a son-in-law and a granddaughter.

 

Eve Cummins lived in Gnesen Township at the time of the storm, and now lives in Saginaw.

Facts about the 1991 Halloween Blizzard

Statistics and facts about the 1991 Halloween Blizzard that struck the Northland, compiled by the National Weather Service in Duluth:

  • The 36.9 inches of snow that fell at Duluth during the storm set a Minnesota record for storm total snowfall. That mark was beaten in 1994, when a storm dropped 46.5 inches of snow at Finland.

  • Snow began in Duluth at about 1 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 31 and continued until 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 3. Moderate to heavy snow fell in Duluth from about 11 a.m. Nov. 1 to about 2 a.m. Nov. 2.

  • Blowing snow was reported in Duluth for 33 consecutive hours, starting at 2 p.m. Nov. 1.

Other storm totals in the region included:

  • 36 inches at Two Harbors
  • 32 inches at Brule, Brimson and Bruno
  • 31.5 inches at Superior
  • 30 inches at Eveleth
  • 28 inches at Solon Springs
  • 25 inches at Lutsen
  • 20 inches at Bayfield and Floodwood
  • 18.6 inches at Cloquet
  • 16.8 inches at International Falls
  • 16 inches at Hayward
  • 10.4 inches at Grand Rapids
 

A “Perfect Storm” connection

What would become the 1991 Halloween Blizzard developed along the Texas Gulf Coast just as another, more widely famous storm was starting to wind down: The “Perfect Storm” on the East Coast that was made famous by the Sebastian Junger book and subsequent movie starring George Clooney.

“With the Perfect Storm acting as an atmospheric block on the East Coast, a track from west to east was a no-go” for the Halloween Blizzard, the Weather Channel reported in a story looking back at both storms. “There was only one way to go for the megastorm: north.”

And so the Halloween Blizzard moved almost due north, supplied by plentiful Gulf moisture. It rapidly strengthened over Wisconsin on Nov. 1, just as it reached a point to drop maximum snow on the Northland.

MORE BLIZZARD MEMORIES

1991 blizzard stories and video in the News Tribune Attic

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