30 Years Later – Memories of Minnesota’s Infamous Halloween Blizzard Remain Vivid [PHOTOS, VIDEO]
Rochester, MN (KROC-AM News) - For many of us old enough to have experienced it 30 years ago, our memories of the Halloween Blizzard of 1991 remain uncommonly vivid.
The forecasters were all in agreement that Minnesota was in the crosshairs of a major storm as a deepening low-pressure system that originated in Texas moved rapidly to the north-northeast. In the Rochester area, there was some hope that we might "dodge the bullet" when warm air was pushed into the region ahead of the storm and the precipitation remained liquid on Halloween night and into the next day. It was a false hope.
By the afternoon of November 1st, the temperature had begun to plunge, shifting the rain to ice and later snow. The air pressure at the center of the storm was so low that meteorologists described it as a "land hurricane,” producing winds that snapped countless ice-coated power lines and power poles. The National Weather Service reported 2 to 3 inches of ice accumulated in parts of southeastern Minnesota. While that kept the snowfall totals lower when compared to other parts of the state, the thick ice resulted in life-threatening conditions for tens of thousands of people who left without power and heat as the departing storm pulled unseasonably cold air into the region.
The National Weather says at least 20,000 homes and businesses in southeastern Minnesota lost power and it took about a week to restore electrical service to many customers in rural areas. At my home on the southeast edge of Rochester, the power was out until 3 AM on November 2nd, forcing us to use our wood fireplace to remain warm as the outside temperatures plummeted and the winds howled at 30 to 50 miles per hour.
Governor Arne Carlson declared a state of emergency in Freeborn and Mower Counties, where the National Guard was activated to deliver generators to farms without power. Stranded motorists were housed in National Guard Armories after drifting snow forced the closure of I-90 from Rochester to the South Dakota border.
News reports put the damage to the power grid and other infrastructure at nearly $12 million in the 11 southeast and south-central Minnesota Counties that received a federal disaster declaration. A National Weather Service summary of the storm and its aftermath also reported massive power outages in northern Iowa, where the damage exceeded $60 million.
The warmer air responsible for the ice storm reduced the snowfall totals, but Rochester still set a record for November 1st at 5.7 inches and up to 10 inches was reported in Winona and Houston Counties. Meanwhile, areas to the north that experienced colder temperatures when the storm first hit, ended up with snow totals measured in feet and snowdrifts that buried vehicles, even large ones. The National Weather Service says the Twins Cities was hit by a record 28.4 inches, while Duluth experienced the largest single-day snowfall in state history at just under 37-inches, and nearby Superior Wisconsin reported 45 inches of new snow.
The Halloween Blizzard was also a killer. Storm-related traffic crashes and heart attacks associated with shoveling the deep snow were blamed for 20 deaths in Minnesota.