Saturday, December 04, 2010

March 1941 Blizzard Revisited

Coverage of 1941 Blizzard in Minnesota & North Dakota
[WILMINGTON MORNING STAR, North Carolina, March 17, 1941]
Last year I wrote about the 'Ides of March' blizzard of 1941, sharing a story that a reader of this blog sent me of his memories of that event.

Now, in the course of my new job, a patron shared with me that a book had been written about the blizzard.  In the book, there are several references to local/regional stories of people touched by that storm, including the following two stories...

PEMBINA Stories:

At 7:24 pm [on Saturday, March 15th], the wind in Pembina was at 36 mph, but ten minutes later it jumped to 58 mph.  Pembina immediately warned the Fargo airport station of the drastic change.  This was the first report Fargo had received that a dangerous storm had arrived in northeastern North Dakota.1

On Saturday, Mr. and Mrs. Mike Howry went to Pembina while their oldest girls babysat at home.  When the storm came up, the couple decided to wait it out in Pembina.  Meanwhile, back on their farm three-quarters of a mile south of town, Katherine, 19, and Florence 14, figured their mother was out in the storm and was having trouble making it home.  Leaving the younger boys at home, they walked over to the railroad tracks which ran along their farm and headed for town.  On Sunday, Mr. Howry returned home.  To his horror, he discovered that his daughters had gone out into the blizzard. He quickly returned to Pembina.  In the meantime a Northern Pacific engine, unknown to its train crew, dragged a body into town on its cow catcher. The locomotive that dragged the body into Pembina had been sent form Grand Forks to replace an engine that was damaged.  During the storm, the gale winds blew a boxcar off one of the industry tracks in Pembina onto the main line and a  short time later the passenger train from Emerson hit the boxcar, damaging the engine.  Word of the tragic death spread fast and a crowd gathered at the depot.  Hearing of the commotion, Mr. Howry went to the depot where a tragic sight awaited him.  He identified the body as one of this daughters.  Search parties walked along the railroad tracks and discovered the body of the other sister a mile south of Pembina near a railroad trestle. (P. 105)


ST. VINCENT stories:

March 17th New York Times[Click Read/Enlarge]
Northwestern Minnesota occupies the other half of the Red River Valley [of the North].  The size of the Valley is about the same in Minnesota as in North Dakota.  On major difference is that, unlike North Dakota, the Red River Valley gives way to woods and lakes in Minnesota.  Kittson County is the most northwestern county in Minnesota.  Hallock, its county seat, had 1,353 residents in 1940.  The March 15, 1941 storm entered Minnesota first in Kittson County.  Around eight that evening the temperature was above the freezing mark and a gentle snow was falling in Hallock.  The Kittson County Enterprise explained what happened next.
All of a sudden the wind switched to the northwest and struck with such a violent fury and within an instant's time the entire scene was transformed into a raging blizzard as the thermometer started to plunge downward as though it had been plunged into a cake of ice. The fury of the storm was such that persons driving were simply trapped and stopped in their tracks.
Although no deaths due to the storm were reported in Kittson County, there were numerous close calls...One of those close calls was Dave Turner, a St. Vincent township farmer and his three children, ages 13, 11, and 6.  Turner's wife had gone to Grand Forks earlier in the day and the children were in Humboldt.  After going into town to pick them up. Turner was bringing them home when the blizzard stalled his car one-and-a-half miles from Humboldt (1940 population of 139).  Without heat and adequate clothing, the Turners suffered considerably from the elements.  Unwilling to see the children suffer any more, Turner decided to seek help.  After making the children promise not to leave the car, Turner set out for help.  After reaching Humboldt, Turner returned with a rescue crew at three in the morning.  Although suffering from exposure and minor frostbite, the children managed to survive the ordeal but it was a frightening experience for them.  It was a double ordeal for Mr. Turner, as his wife was also stranded in the storm but came through unscathed. (P. 175)

From LOOKING FOR CANDLES IN THE WINDOW: The Tragic Red River Valley Blizzard of March 15, 1941 by Douglas Ramsey and Larry Skroch

1 - 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.  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.  

SOURCE:  "Disaster" article from This Day in History, History Channel