Snow many memories: Northlanders share stories from 1991 Halloween blizzard

Trick-or-treaters braving the conditions. Flight delays and harrowing drives. Rescheduled weddings. Wild times in the college dorms. Join us on a look back at the famous storm 30 years later.

FILE: 1991 Halloween blizzard
Drew and JR Scofield, 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. They were trying to help clear it off. Bob King / File / Duluth News Tribune
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We’ll probably never stop talking about it.

From major candy hauls to treacherous travels to weddings and births that are now stuff of legend, every certified Northlander has their story of how they got through the 1991 Halloween blizzard.

The snow fell continuously in Duluth for 72 hours, accompanied by gale-force winds leading to widespread power outages and mammoth snow drifts that kept residents indoors for days. From late Halloween night until early on the morning of Nov. 3, the city never saw visibility above 1.25 miles.

At least 500 businesses and 400 schools were forced to close in Minnesota on Friday, Nov. 1, and many Northlanders could not get back to normal life until at least the following Monday.


Cars were abandoned along roads and highways. An estimated 190 million cubic feet of snow had to be plowed, shoveled and blown away by crews in Duluth.

Originating in the Texas Gulf Coast, the storm was forced almost directly north as its path was blocked by the famous “Perfect Storm” winding down on the East Coast.

The system dropped a wide path of snow across the Midwest before strengthening over the Northland. While parts of western Minnesota and much of Wisconsin received less than 6 inches, Duluth was the epicenter with a whopping 36.9 inches, then a state record.


While that would be broken in 1994 with a more isolated storm that dumped 46.5 inches of snow in Finland, Lake County, the 1991 Halloween blizzard remains a quintessential topic of conversation around these parts — owing to its early arrival and widespread disruption, which also included a record 28.4 inches in the Twin Cities.
As we celebrate — or perhaps bemoan — its 30th anniversary, the News Tribune asked readers to share their best memories of the “megastorm.”

Here are your stories as you told them (with some light editing for length and clarity):


Halloween candy till Easter

I was 11 years old that Halloween. My cousin, Tara, and I were avid trick-or-treaters in the Piedmont neighborhood and we would map out our route the week before the big night.

We knew which house passed out apples, which one gave out cans of soda (hit that one twice if you could) and which house gave out Saran-wrapped stacks of pennies (skip that one!).

Well, when the snow started that night, my mom tried to tell us we should stay home, but there was no way we were going to let a little snow stop us from the best night of the year. I mean, we are hardy Duluth kids! What’s a little snow?!

We scrapped our costumes and put on full winter gear. We also grabbed a sled to help us get down the hills quicker. We were the only kids out in our neighborhood!

People couldn’t believe it when we rang their doorbells! Some people literally poured their bowls of candy into our pillowcases! We made out like bandits with so many goodies! We still knew better than to go to the house with the pennies though.

We came home exhausted from trudging through the knee-high snow with wind-chapped cheeks and enough candy to last us until Easter.

Jori Watczak



Best man refuses to miss wedding

I was fairly newly married at the time and our oldest son was 6 months old. One of my best friends was getting married in the Twin Cities that Saturday, and I was to be the best man.

Nobody ever expected a big snowstorm at that time of year, and when it started nobody really expected it to keep snowing for as long as it did.

After a lot of calling and checking on the weather — you couldn’t communicate as easily 30 years ago as you can now — they debated canceling the wedding, but ultimately decided to go ahead.

I was young and dumb, but I love winter and I love a challenge, so I knew we could make it to the Cities in my new four-wheel-drive truck. So my wife and I loaded up our 6-month-old son and all our stuff and left around 11 a.m. Friday.

It was a manual transmission truck and I was in second gear going maybe 15-20 mph, zigzagging around cars that were stuck. The only way I could see was out of my peripheral vision, looking at the reflectors in the ditches because you couldn’t see anything else in the snow and the wind. I was pushing snow with the front bumper the whole way.

We got to a gas station somewhere around Hinckley and pulled off. I remember thinking the snow would taper off. But after about a half-hour, I got kind of nervous and thought, “This isn’t going to quit. We’re going to be stuck at a gas station with a 6-month-old for two or three days.”

So I told my wife, “We can make it,” and we got back in the truck and kept going. There were cars in the ditch the whole way and we were up to the bumper or deeper, going 15-20 mph the whole way.

We got to Burnsville around 9 or 10 p.m., because I remember turning on the local news. So it was a 10- or 11-hour drive. We missed the rehearsal dinner Friday, but we made it to the actual wedding Saturday. There were a minimal number of people there, and even the drive home Sunday was pretty rough as the roads were all choppy ice.

It probably wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but it turned out to be quite a story.

Dave Spooner


The things we do for love

I was an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Minnesota Duluth, living on Central Avenue in West Duluth at the time. My parents had just moved to Vermont.

Without thinking things through, I decided to walk to Morgan Park to see my girlfriend. I remember a 3-or-more-hour walk in howling winds and blowing snow. No cellphones, no social media.

A few snowplow drivers stopped to see if I wanted a ride, but I told them no. I was more fearful of being abducted than dying in a historic blizzard.

I made it to her house safely. Cold and exhausted. I ended up marrying that girl and we just celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary this past week!

David Haugen


Working on the farm

I was working on the Syring family farm in Douglas County, just north of Pattison State Park, and on that particular day I was milking cows in the barn.

Throughout the day the snow kept piling up, and I knew I wasn’t going anywhere. Halfway through the evening milking, Marshall Syring came into the barn and said, “I got the tractor stuck.”

I had to drop what I was doing and take the other tractor way out to where the young stock was in pasture, because they were all gathered around a tree and the snow was piling up around them. The snow was so deep that the cows didn’t want to go anywhere, so Marshall had brought a bale of hay out to where they were.

Well, with the tractor stuck, we had to put a chain around it during the howling wind and snow — and it was really coming down. We got the tractor unstuck and I drove back to the barn to finish the milking, but the tractor got stuck again on the roadway coming back.

So by the time I finished milking, Marshall was able to walk back and tell me I had to get the other tractor out again. That was a fiasco because the roadway was so slippery and we almost ended up getting the other tractor stuck. It turned into a nightlong adventure of fighting the snow and it was really hard. By the time I got to bed, I slept pretty well.

Of course, the next morning I had to shovel everything out to get into the barn to milk the cows again. It took another couple days to get everything shoveled and plowed out. I was exhausted, but at least the milk truck was able to stop by on its regular schedule, so it could’ve been worse.

Jeff Monaghan


FILE: 1991 Halloween blizzard DNT front page
The front page of the Nov. 2, 1991, Duluth News Tribune, reporting on the Halloween blizzard that ultimately dropped a record 36.9 inches on the city.

Testing out the new Jeep

We had acquired a Jeep — and that meant we could go anywhere, yes? Even when the advice was to stay home? Yes!

We drove a few miles up the North Shore on Friday, got stuck twice, shoveled our way out, and plowed through snowdrifts on Scenic 61, peering through the open windows as the wipers couldn’t keep the windshield clear.

On the way home, driving up the plowed Piedmont Avenue, we saw the higher-than-a-vehicle drift blocking our street. My husband said, “If we go through that we won’t get out until Monday” — as he crossed to the left lane and hit the snow bank squarely.

We came out on the other side covered with the white stuff, Jeeped our way through foot-deep snow and into our driveway. True, we didn’t get out again until Monday.

Margaret Larson

Two Harbors

Tough choice: candy or snow?

The spooky evening started out much like any other Halloween night, with two young, anxious brothers on a quest to get as much candy, candy, candy (as Garfield would say) as they could.

Josh, age 6, was out to conquer the night in his super buck-toothed hero "Bucky O'Hare" costume. His younger brother, Corey, age 5, was donning his homemade Koala bear outfit. Poor kid could barely walk straight in that costume; makes you wonder what some parents are thinking (remember Ralphie in his bunny outfit from “A Christmas Story?”).

1991 Halloween blizzard Hartman submitted .jpg
Josh Hartman, 6, left, and Corey Hartman, 5, couldn't decide whether to seek more candy or play in the heavy snow during the 1991 Halloween blizzard in Duluth, their mother, Sue Hartman, recalled. Contributed / Sue Hartman

Trick-or-treating got underway — for a short time anyhow. Then the snow started falling and the interest of playing in the snow soon outweighed the interest in collecting large amounts of candy, which can be a good thing, from a parent's point of view anyway.

The amount of snow that was going to fall that evening and carry into the next three days was unbelievable. The pumpkin’s light was soon replaced with fresh falling snow and glowed like a fluorescent souvenir. Josh and Corey ended up having a Halloween like "snow" other.

Sue Hartman


Paradise in the Poconos

That Friday night, my wife and I were out in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, and we had to come back on Saturday. So here we are sitting in our timeshare, nice and comfortable with beautiful weather, watching the national news featuring Duluth, Minnesota, getting buried under this huge snowstorm.

The next day we got to the Newark, New Jersey, airport and a nice lady there said, “Well, we can get you to Minneapolis, but there’s no way you’re going to get to Duluth.” So she very kindly booked us a Minneapolis-to-Duluth flight Sunday, which was nice because everyone and their brother was trying to get a flight that day.

So we got to Minneapolis and stayed in a hotel overnight before catching our flight to Duluth on Sunday. We got a taxi from the airport out to London Road, which had been plowed, but it had to drop us off at the bottom of 44th Avenue East.

I live on Luverne Street, so we had to walk up a block and a few houses over to get home. Luckily, one of our neighbors had plowed out a snowblower-width path from London Road up to Luverne Street.

But here we are, wearing autumn-, almost summer-type clothes, and dragging all our carry-on luggage and suitcases through the snow, never thinking we’d be coming home to this weather.

Roger Morris


FILE: 1991 Halloween blizzard
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 / File / Duluth News Tribune

Determined to get to Detroit

The weekend of the blizzard I had to be in Detroit to recertify for my emergency medicine boards. I had studied weeks for them and was determined to get there.

I had plane tickets to leave from the Duluth airport on Friday and return on Saturday after the exam was over. But the Duluth airport was closed, of course.

I packed my 15-year-old truck with my suitcase and survival gear and drove five hours on a one-lane Interstate 35 to the Minneapolis airport, which was a mess.

We got out of MSP at 3 a.m. Saturday (4 a.m. Detroit time). The exam was at 8 a.m. I don’t think I slept at all. I passed the exam.

John Schrock


More snow = more candy

My boys, Ryan and Sean Walters, insisted on going trick-or-treating with their dad, although the snow in our hometown of Grantsburg, Wisconsin, was rapidly rising.

They will tell you it was the best ever, as they managed to score most of the candy in town, being nearly the only ones crazy enough to go out!

Lisa Hoch


FILE: 1991 Halloween blizzard
Kasey Kennedy, of Duluth, cut a narrow slice of a path through an enormous wall of snow left by the 1991 megastorm and the plow. Peeking out behind him is Carlin Jackson Page. Bob King / File / Duluth News Tribune

Stranded and low on beer

We received a call that my mother-in-law was in St. Luke’s hospital, and my husband, Curly Patterson, decided to fly up from Austin, Texas, to support his parents, Ruby and Roy Patterson.

He and his dad were at the hospital and Curly mentioned that they should start to leave as the snow was coming and they needed to get over the hill. They drove up the hill to Bullyan’s trailer park, where they had purchased a trailer for their summer stays in Duluth.

Snow started falling. Curly started shoveling and that routine continued all night. The concern was that they needed to keep the porch shoveled so they could open the door for safety reasons.

I started to receive phone calls in Austin. Curly was not what you call a happy camper. I suggested, “Relax, have a beer and this, too, shall pass.” His response was, “There is one beer in the refrigerator. Beers don’t come in ‘A Beer.’ They are 6, 12 or 48s.”

I heard the desperation in his voice. I called our niece, Connie Pirkola, and after a few chuckles she volunteered her husband, Chris, to go over and plow them out. Thanks to the Pirkolas, Curly was able to visit his parents and flew home in a few days.

Later, a sweatshirt arrived in the mail for Uncle Curly. It read: “I survived the Halloween Blizzard in Duluth.”

Kathy Hietalati Patterson

Fountain Hills, Arizona

Last-minute campaigning

This storm was right before Election Day when my brother, Gary Doty, was running for mayor. Against the advice of my husband, Ed, I insisted that he drive me to election headquarters to make last-minute phone calls.

Big mistake? It wasn't very long after we arrived that it became apparent that we better get home, or we might not make it. If Ed hadn't been driving, I'd have never gotten into the driveway back home.

Gary's yard signs were buried in snow, so volunteers went out before Election Day and placed new ones on top of the snowbanks. (He was elected to his first of three terms on Nov. 5.)

Linda Bashaw


Halloween Blizzard DNT Page 1A, Sunday, Nov. 3, 1991.png
The front page of the Nov. 3, 1991, edition of the Duluth News Tribune reports the aftermath of the three-day snowstorm that pounded the region. Also noted is that week's mayoral election, which saw Gary Doty defeat incumbent John Fedo.

Married a day late

My husband’s relative was due to be married on the Saturday night of the Halloween blizzard. I was asked to take some casual photos of the attendees at the wedding and the reception.

The snow started on Thursday, Halloween evening, and continued through Saturday. Everyone was homebound. The wedding was canceled.

By some miracle, everything was rescheduled for Sunday — the church lot was plowed, organist skied to church and some came on snowmobiles. I walked a block through 3 feet of snow and was picked up by a four-wheel drive vehicle.

The wedding was beautiful. The reception and food were great. The party was held at Somers Hall, complete with the DJ. I was able to take some cherished photos. The bride and groom definitely had a story to tell their future children and grandchildren.

Char Mahai


Bad time for backyard construction

We ended up with a digger stuck in our backyard.

At the time, we were living at 1920 E. Sixth St., and we had hired Builders Commonwealth to do some work on the deck in the backyard. The digger ended up getting buried in the snow and it was about a week before they could pull it out. The deck work didn’t end up getting finished until the next year.

On top of that, we discovered our snowblower wouldn’t work. And of course we couldn’t get Denny’s Hardware to come pick it up because no one could get anywhere!

Barb Soder


FILE: 1991 Halloween blizzard
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 Nov. 1, 1991, during the Halloween blizzard. Bob King / File / Duluth News Tribune

Harrowing drive from Halloween carnival

The night of the storm, we took our two boys, ages 14 and 2, to the Halloween carnival at the Hermantown Elementary School on Arrowhead Road. I believe I knew by that time that I was pregnant with our third son.

We knew a storm was coming, but it was just snowing lightly when we left the house, which was probably around 5:30 p.m.

We probably only stayed an hour at the carnival and by the time we got back outside to the car, it was snowing heavily and there was probably already 3-5 inches of wet, heavy snow.

It was hard for the window wipers on our van to keep the front window clear to be able to see clearly. Plus the heater wasn’t able to defrost anything but the lower part of the front window. I think I even put the hazards on to be more visible and had to roll down the side windows at every intersection to look for traffic.

I was nervous driving home, but fortunately, Hermantown is pretty flat so we took it slow and made it home safely.

The next morning we woke up to a winter wonderland and I think it was still snowing. Everything was so quiet with no cars on the road.

We still talk about that Halloween storm!

Debby Ortman


Halloween Blizzard DNT Page 2A, Saturday, Nov. 2, 1991.png
Travel was all but shut down in the Northland, and city of Duluth crews were focused on clearing out main roads but "losing the battle" as heavy snow pelted the region for several days, the Duluth News Tribune reported in its Nov. 2, 1991, edition.

Wild time in the UMD dorms

I was a senior at UMD, and a residential adviser in the Griggs Hall freshman dorms. It was a Thursday night, and the biggest thing I remember is EVERYTHING being closed down, and everyone was stuck on campus the entire weekend.

Typically, a portion of students would go home on the weekend or be out and about, but everyone was unable to leave the dorms, and it was loud and wild.

The biggest personal tragedy for me was that we had a really good coed flag football team, and it was my best and last shot at winning a championship T-shirt in intramurals.

The championship game was postponed, and when we finally played, it was in knee- and thigh-deep snow the next week (and we lost).

It would have been great to have cellphones and easy camera access like we have today, as I have zero pictures from that event. I can still see the cars buried in the Griggs parking lot, where only the antennas of each car were visible.

Chad Kaddatz

Little Falls, Minnesota

FILE: 1991 Halloween blizzard
A group of current and former University of Minnesota Duluth 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: Kris Simon, Mike Erickson, Brenda Berglund, Cal Matten, Dennis Karp, Jay Lyle, Becky Sunnarberg, Aaron Stoskopf and Eric Rajala. Dave Ballard / File / Duluth News Tribune

Treacherous trick or treating

I was 10 years old when the '91 Halloween blizzard hit. We bundled up in full winter gear, including snow pants.

I don't remember what mask I had, but I'm sure it was one of the plastic-molded character faces with a flimsy elastic band stapled to each side.

My grandma lived in Central Hillside on Fourth Avenue East between Fifth and Sixth, adjacent to the alley. I remember watching a bus barreling down the steep avenue — sideways at an angle — coming right for us.

The telephone pole stopped it before it got to us. It was like something out of a movie. Snowmageddon indeed.

Breanne Tepler


Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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