Though redefined, blizzards still nature’s fury

Quite a bit of time has elapsed since this part of the country has enjoyed a real blizzard.

That’s quite remarkable since someone, somewhere readjusted the requirements for a snowstorm to become a blizzard.

Now a real blizzard doesn’t have to be as cold, nor does the wind speed have to be as high as required just a few years ago, and snow depths have been reduced. Even under the new definition they’re still dangerous and can kill if people aren’t careful.

The history of blizzards around here goes back a long way … long before official records for this area were kept.

Tuesday, January 7, 1873, turned out to be a warm, balmy day, ideal for catching up on outdoor chores or projects which had been delayed because of the really nasty winter that had kept most people cabin-bound.

This day was different. Many of the farmers around here started out to replenish their wood and food supplies and animal fodder. Doing that, for many of them required long hauls on sleds drawn by oxen. They couldn’t go too far because even good oxen couldn’t travel more than 5 miles an hour.

The weather was so balmy that heavy coats and other winter clothing soon came off so the owners could really enjoy the unusual, unexpected weather.

 It didn’t last!

By about 2 p.m., the light, fleecy clouds disappeared and, without warning, the winds died. It was so still that dogs barking miles away were heard clearly. This lasted only a few moments. Then the winds rose again, but this time they were from the northwest, temperatures dropped below zero in a matter of minutes, and the light, fluffy snow turned cold and hard and fell so heavily that visibility dropped to just a couple of feet. Anyone caught outside was totally lost!

A very few people who were close to their homes let their horses bring them to safety.

Just yards away people were freezing and dying, and that’s the way it went day and night from the afternoon of Jan. 7 until it began to ease up toward noon on the ninth. It dropped in intensity until it was just a regular blizzard which lasted nearly two days more.

The storm had affected many people, most of whom did survive although those who didn’t were numbered in the dozens. Many persons who survived the storm desperately needed medical assistance. The few doctors practicing in the area worked tirelessly removing limbs too badly injured in the storm to save and other treatments.

Among the people who survived although severely injured by the blizzard was Michael Holden who lost both legs and one arm, earned an unenviable place in Minnesota history.

There’s not enough space here for a detailed report on the storm and its effects, but they are reported in detail in the “Illustrated History of Kandiyohi County,” and “Centennial History of Kandiyohi County.”

Innumerable blizzards have hit the county over the years, but the ones about which the tales are told should be the 1940 Armistice Blizzard and the St. Patrick’s Day Blizzard on March 17, 1965.

The Armistice Day Blizzard (Nov. 11) started much like its predecessor, the Really Big One of January 7, 1873. It was balmy with not a cloud in the sky in the morning. This was still duck season so there were a lot of hunters out celebrating the occasion in their own ways. Hunting was good — and then it happened! Balmy gave way to deep cold winds blowing from the northwest, just like the one which had tied up the county 93 years before.

Everyone started looking for shelter and most of them found it, but there were some casualties. The Empire Builder, Great Northern’s crack cross-country train, trying to get through some deep snow drifts, ended up stuck in one about a mile west of Atwater. The storm stopped during the night but driving anywhere was still an impossibility. The Builder’s engineer and fireman walked into town to get help getting people off the train, which was losing heat fast. Boys will be boys, and some of the older ones had gone out to check out the blizzard’s effects around town when the trainmen asked them if they’d help getting people to safety. They recruited their friends, and gathered snow shoes and sleds and toboggans and headed west along the railroad tracks to get passengers into town where they were picked up by residents and brought to private homes. The unexpected guests stayed there for a couple days until their train was back working.

The third largest blizzard to hit Kandiyohi County picked St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1965, to pay its visit, which was not enjoyed by all. There were strong winds and plenty of snow — some drifts on Willmar streets were 15-20 feet deep. Towns around the county got recruits to go with the snow plows to shovel through those drifts, which towered over the plows.

The snow and wind combination kept many people at home for days. Farmers started saving their cream, but soon the bath tubs were filled. Urgent supplies were delivered by air.

Local pilots who could get their planes above the drifts delivered many supplies to homebound people.

There were few or no deaths reported during the storm, a couple of babies were delivered, and there could have been many injuries from snow shoveling and other effects of the storm.

It took a long time over a wide area of Minnesota to regain normalcy following the St. Patrick’s Day Blizzard of 1965.