The Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940

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Posted: November 11, 2022 at 6:24 am

On November 11, 1940, a rapidly deepening low pressure system moved northeast from Kansas City, MO northeast through the Upper Mississippi River Valley and into the Upper Great Lakes. This low pressure area produced the lowest pressure reading ever recorded up to this time at Charles City, IA (28.92 inches), La Crosse, WI (28.72 inches), and Duluth, MN (28.66 inches).

Armistice Day (now known as Veteran’s Day) began with blue skies and temperatures in the 40s and 50s. The weather forecast for that morning was for colder temperatures and a few flurries. The day was so nice that duck hunters dressed in short-sleeved shirts rushed to the marshes along the Mississippi River early that morning.

During the late morning and early afternoon, a strong cold front moved through the region. Behind this front, the weather became rather blustery and the temperature plunged to the single digits by the next morning. The rain turned to sleet and eventually to driving snow. Twelve duck hunters were trapped on the Mississippi River between St. Paul and Prairie du Chien by gale-force winds and threatening waves. These hunters sought shelter on small islands and eventually froze to death. Rescue work the next day was hindered by ice which had developed during the preceding night.

Elsewhere heavy snow fell across the Dakotas, much of Minnesota and Iowa, and northwest Wisconsin. The greatest snow total was 26.6 inches in Collegeville, MN. In addition, 30 to 50 mph winds caused considerable blowing and drifting of snow which trapped unsuspecting motorists.

Twenty foot drifts were reported near Willmar, MN. The blizzard left 49 dead in Minnesota, and gales on Lake Michigan caused ship wrecks resulting in another 59 deaths. The storm claimed a total of 154 lives, and killed thousands of cattle in Iowa. More than a million turkeys were killed by the storm in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and other states. The storm became know as the “Armistice Day Storm”.

After the Armistice Day Storm of 1940:

In the days and weeks after the storm, the U.S. Weather Bureau responded to criticism that it failed to predict the huge blizzard. Officials said they knew a storm was coming, but were wrong about its strength and scope.  Perhaps the most embarrassing revelation was that no one was watching the storm’s explosive development in the pre-dawn hours of November 11 (the low pressure deepened 1-2 millibars per hour over a 24 hour time period). A retired government forecaster says the Midwest headquarters in Chicago was not staffed overnight. The uproar led to several changes.

Source:  National Weather Service