March 15

This Day in History

Disaster

Mar 15, 1941:

Blizzard unexpectedly hits North Dakota and Minnesota

A fast-moving and severe blizzard hits North Dakota and Minnesota, killing 151 people, on this day in 1941. Weather forecasting and reporting made important advances following this disaster that would have prevented the loss of life that occurred due to the sudden storm.

The people of North Dakota and northern Minnesota had nearly no warning of the blizzard that swept in suddenly from the west on March 15. In some locations, temperatures dropped 20 degrees in less than 15 minutes. Fifty-mile-per-hour sustained winds (with gusts reaching 85 mph in Grand Forks and 75 mph in Duluth) brought blinding snow and huge 7-foot-high snow drifts across the states.

Most of the victims of the blizzard were traveling in their cars when it hit. Highway 2, running from Duluth, Minnesota, to North Dakota, was shut down, as were Highways 75 and 81. Attempts to rescue those stranded in their cars came too late. In one incident, six-year-old Wilbert Treichel died from exposure to the cold as his parents attempted to carry him through the blizzard to safety.

Two thousand people attending a basketball game in Moorhead, Minnesota, were stranded at the arena overnight when it was wisely decided that travel was too dangerous. Theaters, hotels and stores across the region were also forced to stay open through the night because so many people had visited them, unaware that a major storm was approaching. Although the storm was also severe in Manitoba, Canada, only seven people there died because the population was much better prepared for the storm and for dangerous weather in general.

In the aftermath of this blizzard, weathermen in North Dakota and Minnesota--who had been under the control of the Chicago meteorology office, which was more concerned with local weather concerns and paid less attention to events occurring to the north--were allowed autonomy in their reporting. Protected with new technological advances in the wake of the disaster, area residents hoped they would never again be so blind-sided by a winter storm.

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