From a recent Grand Forks Herald article:
In these parts, blizzards come and go, but the biggest ones earn lasting respect.
"I think it's the same with hurricanes and with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes," said Leon Osborne, director for UND's Regional Weather Information Center. "It's just kind of this fascination for the incredible awe, the power. It's so much greater than anything we as humans produce. And there's nothing you can do about it. It overpowers you."
The most storied blizzard of recent years is the winter of 1996-97's eighth blizzard. Many recalled the storm this week on its 10th anniversary by its Herald-given name, Hannah.
If luck be a lady, Hannah was snake-eyes lousy. Its preceding rain, freezing rain and sleet, followed by blinding snow, helped push the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Flood of '97 into certified disaster status. That icy entrance, combined with powerful winds, also downed several thousand power poles and humbled hundreds of thousands of people while crippling the region's electrical power grid.
"Hannah didn't do anybody any favors," said John Wheeler, chief meteorologist for Grand Forks' WDAZ TV and Fargo's WDAY TV and Radio.
Blizzard Hannah was the ice queen cometh show-stopping royalty with a grand entrance that demonstrated spectacularly poor timing.
But a storm that would be king?
Today is championship day for the NCAA's men's hockey Frozen Four. If significant Red River region blizzards of the past 100 years could be narrowed to a kind of "Frozen Four," would Hannah qualify? And which storms would it rival?
Consulting with local severe weather authorities, the Herald settled on this subjective list of "Blizzard Frozen Four" candidates (in chronological order):
-- March 1941 "Ides of March Blizzard"
-- March 1966 blizzard
-- January 1975 "Super Bowl Blizzard"
-- April 1997 "Blizzard Hannah"
"I'd rank (Hannah) up there among the great blizzards because of the incredible amount of hardship that it caused," Wheeler said. "I think that's as good a way to rank blizzards as any."
Osborne agrees: "In the last 30 years, (Hannah) is probably the most intense storm that we've had. But from the standpoint of blizzards (of the century), historically speaking, I'd barely put it in the top four."
If the magnitude of snow produced is the primary consideration, Osborne said, the 1966 blizzard "was clearly the winner. . . . We have not seen a repeat of that storm environment in 40 years."
Wheeler, too, said the '66 storm "was spectacular" in several respects. "The winds were between 40 and 50 mph most of the time the blizzard was going on. It was about 20 below." That more people didn't die, Wheeler said, is probably a testimony of better media weather coverage than existed in March 1941, when 71 people died during a "Alberta clipper" blizzard.
Wheeler said blizzards are difficult to rank because, unlike hurricanes and tornadoes, they feature multiple components that aren't nearly as easily measured.
Mark Ewens, a veteran meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, gives preference to wind speeds and extremely low pressure an intense storm staple when informally ranking blizzards. He ranks the '75 Super Bowl Blizzard first, followed by the '66 blizzard and '97's Hannah.
Observational records influence his fourth choice, a blizzard that struck North Dakota in March 1920 as his fourth choice. Fewer people are alive who remember the deadly 1920 storm. But that might not clarify matters.
"On the whole, people have really bad weather memories," Ewens said. "When we start looking at particulars, our memory tends to inflate things, especially as we get older."
Added Larry Skroch, a Grand Forks man who co-authored books about the '41 and '66 blizzards: "If you ever get caught in a storm, that's going to be the one that you remember. . . . Whatever you're doing when it hits, you remember."
That's one of the reasons he respects the '75 "Super Bowl Blizzard," which swept through the Upper Midwest right before the Minnesota Vikings' loss in New Orleans to the Pittsburgh Steelers. "My mother got caught in that one," the Cogswell, N.D., native says, so "it's a little personal for me."
But Skroch ranked the '41 and '66 blizzards as the worst the former because of the extent of human tragedy, the latter because of its paralyzing duration and massive livestock deaths. And he's very partial to Hannah, too.
Ewens, Wheeler and Skroch noted that the freezing cold weather Blizzard Hannah ushered into the valley, lasting several days, helped to stretch the Red River crest past Fargo, probably sparing it from Grand Forks-type flood damage.
Blizzards tend to be the Rodney Dangerfield of major weather storms. "Blizzards are kind of the forgotten stepchild in the weather world. Unless they're occurring on the East Coast, it's almost as if the country isn't aware of them," Osborne said.