Photo originally published November 1940

 

Weather forecasters were predicting a few flurries and lower temperatures, but Armistice Day in 1940 began with blue skies and temperatures in the 50s. It was warm enough for duck hunters to eschew jackets, and for Wisconsin hunter Jim Bice to stay home, later recalling “the weather seemed too nice to hunt.”

The next 24 hours would bring rain, snow, gale-force winds and a temperature drop of more than 50 degrees. Telegraph and telephone lines were down, paralyzing communication. Transportation also came to a halt, stranding thousands amid snowdrifts, some as tall as 20 feet. Ultimately, 49 people died in Minnesota, many of them hunters.

The storm ranked second in our list of top five weather events of the 20th century, according to the Minnesota Climatology Office. (The 1930s Dust Bowl topped the list; the 1991 Halloween blizzard was third.) It also drove forecasting improvements. After that winter, forecasting responsibilities were moved from Chicago to regional centers to provide more timely and accurate predictions.