25 years since the infamous Halloween Blizzard

- It is the winter storm that all other winter storms in Minnesota are compared to: 28 inches of snow in 3 days, most of it though falling in just 24 hours from Halloween night through November 1st.  Top that with 50mph wind gusts the day after and subzero wind chills, and you have one epic storm.  Schools were closed for days, tens of thousands were without power, roads were impassable, snow drifts topped 10 feet in spots burying some houses up to their roofs, and 22 people lost their lives.  While this storm would be incredible any time of the year, what made it even more unique was that it took place in October, after just spending several days with temperatures in the 60s and 70s.

The metro averages less than an inch of snow during the month of October. On Halloween, we have had just 6 days since 1872 that have measured some sort of snow.  That’s just 4% of the time.   Accumulating snow falling somewhere in the month is far more common occurring once every 3 years or so in the Twin Cities.  That’s about 33% of the time.  So the fact that we managed to record 8” of snow on Halloween, and then another 20 inches of snow the next 2 days is truly remarkable.

About a dozen records were broken with this storm:  largest snowstorm in metro history, largest 24 hour total, largest Halloween snow total, largest October snow total, earliest 8” snow storm ever. The snow cover helped us get our earliest subzero reading ever that happened on the 11th… it also catapulted us to the snowiest month in Twin Cities history.  The Halloween Blizzard combined with a 2nd large storm later in the month to give the metro nearly 4 feet of snow in November of 1991.  That is a years’ worth of snow in just a months’ time.

This is likely the main reason why the more seasoned generation believes that there was more snow “back in the day” when they were younger, because well, there was! It’s year to year and decade to decade variability which is perfectly normal.  All you have to do is look at the top 5 snow storms on record, and you see that 4 of the 5 came within a decade of each other.  Minnesota, from the late 70s to the early 90s, was a VERY snowy place.

This storm is unforgettable for Minnesotans, but the rest of the country won’t even remember it because the national headlines weren’t focused on the Upper Midwest.  This storm came just days after what is now titled as “The Perfect Storm”.  Such a big deal for the East Coast that a movie was made about it starring George Clooney.  But the unheard of Minnesota Blizzard was actually caused by that “Perfect Storm.”

The ridiculously strong storm off the East Coast set up a blockade in the atmosphere.  The low pressure that was developing in Texas behind the East Coast bomb wasn’t able to continue downstream, so it stalled and gulped up A LOT of Gulf of Mexico moisture.  But instead of moving northeast like many of these storms do and dumping some good rains (and some snow) on parts of the southeast and Ohio Valley, it hit that wall in the atmosphere and was forced to travel nearly due north.  This brought the copious moisture along with it, ran into unusually cold air in the Upper Midwest because of the influence the “Perfect Storm” had, and therefore dumped unprecedented snows from Kansas to the Canadian border.

So can we expect something like this to happen again?  Well, in our lifetime, the odds are exceedingly small.  Now, we have had big storms since then, but they came much later in the season, which is far more normal. Take 2010 for example, when the Metrodome roof collapsed.  MSP officially recorded 17 inches of snow.  So if you weren’t around for the Halloween Blizzard, imagine another foot of snow ON TOP of the 2010 storm that many of us experienced.  THAT’S why it was such a big deal.

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