The Big Story Blog

The Big Story Blog: October 31, 2011 Archive

Could we see another Halloween blizzard like '91?

Posted at 12:30 PM on October 31, 2011 by Jon Gordon
Filed under: Climate

What's the likelihood we could see another storm like that of October 31, 1991 anytime soon?

There's a bit of a difference of opinion on that from the meteorologists we trust most.

"No, emphatically no!" said Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota climatologist and meteorologist, on Midday last week.

"That was a one-off storm lasting from October 31st to November 3rd. A long-duration storm, nearly two and a half feet of snow in the Twin Cities area and over three feet of snow in the Duluth area, near zero-visibility at times. A very, very difficult situation, but a one-off. We don't have a historical analogy for that storm, and I don't expect a storm of that caliber would re-occur for a long time. We only have two or three occurrences of October blizzards in our history."

But MPR News meteorologist Paul Huttner feels differently. Huttner this morning told MPR News Morning Edition host Cathy Wurzer:

"Yes, it's possible...We've just last winter set two of the top 15 all-time snowstorms for the Twin Cities. So yeah, it can happen. I think it may be a while but it could certainly happen again in the next 20 or 30 years."

Giant gorilla rises from snow of 1991 Halloween storm

Posted at 6:23 AM on October 31, 2011 by Molly Bloom
Filed under: Climate, History, Weather

On the 20th anniversary of the historic 1991 Halloween snowstorm, we're sharing stories from our Public Insight Network sources and Facebook followers. Here's one story:

"The 40 inches we got not only made Halloween short it made the winter incredibly long before melting late into Spring," writes Harry Welty of Duluth.

"As a fledgling snow sculptor I had so much snow that I built a sixteen-foot tall gorilla in my front yard. He was with us for month."

He sent us this photo:

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Ring bearer stranded after Halloween blizzard wedding

Posted at 10:00 AM on October 31, 2011 by Molly Bloom
Filed under: Climate

On the 20th anniversary of the historic 1991 Halloween snowstorm, we're sharing stories from our Public Insight Network sources and Facebook followers. Here's one:


sater children.JPG

"My five year-old son went to the city to stay with his grandparents and be ring bearer at his uncle's wedding," writes Lisa Sater.

"He left on Thursday. We didn't get him back for two weeks. We lived north of Brainerd at the time and no one in the cities got shoveled out until mid-week, when we were all working. Then, during the weekend when we could have gone to pick him up, more snow!"

(Photo: Lisa Sater's son Sam at another wedding in the spring after the blizzard.)

A Halloween snowstorm bus ride, later a wedding

Posted at 6:25 AM on October 31, 2011 by Molly Bloom
Filed under: Climate, History, Weather

We received a lot of great stories about the record-setting snowstorm that began 20 years ago today, from Public Insight Network sources and Facebook followers, but only one of them seems fit for a romantic comedy.

Nora Ephron, contact Amy Hanson for story rights. She lives in Minneapolis.

"Oh what a great, great, storm. Work was closed, it was my roommate's birthday on November 1st, and I met my future husband that day.

My roommate and I lived at 45th and Bryant Ave South and we ventured out into a magical day. Really the only vehicles moving were the city buses. I had $10 in my pocket, my roomie had $13 and we were on an adventure headed towards Uptown. A city bus drove up, stopped and the driver welcomed us on without having to pay a fare -- and we even got free transfers. A few blocks later two cute fellas got on the bus and as it turned out we ended up at the Uptown Bar. We had a great day of a few beers and some delicious food and we parted ways, exchanging phone numbers.

These two guys became good friends of ours and six months later I began dating one of the 'guys we met on the bus.'

Bryan and I celebrated our sixteenth wedding anniversary on October 13 and have an amazing 6-1/2 year-old son.

Who would have thought the snowstorm of '91 would have brought such a twist of fate?"

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Left: Amy and her husband Bryan Zell at their 1995 wedding. Right: A more recent photo of Amy and Bryan.

Not ready for winter, or the warmth of Halloween snow

Posted at 6:26 AM on October 31, 2011 by Molly Bloom
Filed under: Climate, History, Weather

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Local DJ, musician and artist Danny Sigelman responded to our call for photos of the 1991 Halloween storm with this memorable shot. Remember, it got up into the 60s just two days before the storm, so Minnesotans weren't in a winter mindset yet.

Danny explains, "I am on the right, my brother Jon Sigelman is on the left. It was taken in Golden Valley in our driveway. I would have been a senior at Hopkins High School at the time, Jon is a couple years younger. I think our Mom must've asked us to shovel the driveway and we thought we'd have some fun and get down to our skivvies. It was one of those fresh snows that doesn't exactly feel very cold at first. There's a certain warmth to fresh powder and we thought it'd be a cool picture and something to remember. Hard to believe that was 20 years ago now."

Trick-or-treating in a the history-making Halloween snow

Posted at 3:28 PM on October 31, 2011 by Molly Bloom
Filed under: Climate, History, Weather

On the 20th anniversary of the historic 1991 Halloween snowstorm, we're sharing stories from our Public Insight Network sources and Facebook followers. Here's one:


"These photos were taken in north Minneapolis on the 5200 block of Irving, actually next door to the house I lived in, since we didn't go much further trick or treating," writes Taylor Dahlin of Minneapolis.

"The kids in the photo all grew up on the same block. I'm the one in the mouse hat, the other two girls are sisters, Kayla and Mallory Pearson. The boy, Ben Wood, is dressed up as a ninja turtle, with a bucket around his neck as a shell! I don't have too many memories, just because we only went to a few houses that night."

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Here's another trick-or-treating story from Marc Asch of North Oaks:

That morning, I was mowing the law. As I neared the end, the snow began to fall. I put the mower away and watched the snow begin to cover the lawn and surrounding woods.

Susan, my wife, was working at the Children's Hospital Emergency Room and our two girls, Rebecca,12, and Sarah, 14, were at school. When the girls got home, we began getting organized for Halloween. Susan came home as the depth passed six inches. The snow continued to pile up but Susan and the girls were not to be deterred from going Halloweening. Luckily, my wife was driving a Jeep Cherokee at the time which was well suited for the storm. I was left behind to greet any Halloweeners who came through the storm.

We live in a wooded area with long winding driveways, but Susan and the girls mushed through the drifts in 4-wheel drive, collecting record amounts of Halloween loot from homeowners facing caloric disaster from otherwise undistributed candy. They reported a few other Jeep-loads of children piloted by hardy Minnesota soccer-Moms who were determined not to let their offspring fall behind in the great candy-collection marathon. The addition of moonboots to the costumes did not deter the goblins, small and large, from plowing through drifts at speed. Our girls were in Renaissance Festival gowns with snowboots replacing sandals. The skirts collected snow as they made their way up the walks to the front doors.

Since our driveway was partially cleared, we attracted more little looters than usual, and I was finally reduced to handing out apples. I considered a run to Cub, but even our excellent city snowplows were losing the battle with the torrent of flakes.

The snow continued to pile up and we attacked the driveway with our snowblower repeatedly. Susan returned to the hospital for another ER shift while we watched the drifts grow.

She had a mug from Children's Hospital Medical Center in Washington, DC, given to her for being one of the hardy staff who made it in during their Great Presidents Day Snowstorm in 1979. We wondered if she would get another. She did.

marchasch.JPGMarc Asch and family in 1991, before the snow began to fly.

Colder than usual winter ahead?

Posted at 2:00 PM on October 31, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Weather

What's this winter look like? It's a natural question as we write today about the Halloween blizzard of 1991. The odds are decent it might be colder than usual.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has the northern plains pegged as colder and wetter than average with another round of worrisome spring flooding possible, thanks to the La Nina weather pattern.

Here's the NOAA map, which shows a 40 percent chance of our winter being colder than average.

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Don't believe NOAA? The Farmers Almanac feels the same way

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1991 Halloween blizzard was no treat

Posted at 6:28 AM on October 31, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Climate, History, Weather

We can look at the photos now and laugh. The Halloween Blizzard of 1991 doesn't seem so scary in pictures -- or in the stories we tell from those three days when more than two feet of snow fell in The Cities and three feet in Duluth.

Twenty years ago today, the snow began falling in a record storm that ranks among the state's worst, bringing swaths of Minnesota to a standstill for days.

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Duluth residents dig out their cars Nov. 4, 1991, after a multi-day
storm dropped 37 inches of snow on the city (Photo courtesy of
Duluth News Tribune)

We'll spend time looking back at what happened, telling our stories and hoping you'll post yours below. We'll also keep an eye on how folks in the northeast are coping with their version of a crippling late October story.

The Minnesota Climatology Working Group has a great, quick read on what happened here Halloween 1991. Here's the map.

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(Minnesota Climatology Working Group)

Here's how the climatology group describes what happened.

Some wintery weather was anticipated but no one was expecting a blizzard. The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Watch at 4 a.m. on the 31st with a potential of a foot of snow.

The first inkling that the forecast under-projected snowfall totals came when precipitation started falling as snow at about 11:30am in the Twin Cities, much earlier than anticipated... a winter storm warning was issued during the day and forecasters realized there was a potential for a lot of snow.

As the afternoon faded into evening a surreal scene unfolded with kids attempting to trick or treat wearing coats and boots and pumpkins becoming covered with a snowy blanket. 8.2 inches of snow fell by midnight on the 31st at the airport, the most for the entire month of October on record for the Twin Cities.

The storm intensified and moved to southeast Iowa by the morning of Friday, November 1. The snow continued to pile up. There were a flurry of cancellations. 900 schools and businesses closed. In southern Minnesota and in Iowa, where the precipitation remained as rain, one to three inches of ice formed on surfaces.

Snow removal became difficult as the snow had started falling on warm pavement, which melted at first and then froze into icy ruts that proved to be very difficult to remove. 18.5 inches fell on November 1 at the Twin Cities International Airport, snow blowers in the metro area quickly sold out.

On Saturday, November 2nd, the storm became a blizzard.
Here's a look at the Twin Cities records set that day.

Most single snow storm total: 28.4 inches
24 hour snowfall in any season: 21.0 inches
Most snow on October 31: 8.2 inches
Most snow on November 1: 18.5 inches
Most snow in October: 8.2 inches
Earliest 8 inch snow 8.2 inches
Earliest autumn below zero low -3*

Today will be lovely by comparison .

I have a pretty good story about the 1991 blizzard and trying to land at MSP. I'll share it later today. Post your memories below.

Making do with tropical fruit in Halloween storm

Posted at 6:21 AM on October 31, 2011 by Jon Gordon
Filed under: Climate, History, Weather

On the 20th anniversary of the historic 1991 Halloween snowstorm, we're sharing stories from our Public Insight Network sources and Facebook followers. Here's one:

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"I carved a pineapple since the closest grocery store was out of pumpkins."


-Kelly Homer, via Facebook











Illustration by Tom Gau

Waiting for dad to dig out car after Halloween snow

Posted at 6:24 AM on October 31, 2011 by Jon Gordon
Filed under: Climate, History, Weather

On the 20th anniversary of the historic 1991 Halloween snowstorm, we're sharing stories from our Public Insight Network sources and Facebook followers. Here's one:

"What a night," writes Nichol Harris of Blaine.

"I was in college at the U of M and of course, it was a big party night. My friend, Suzanne, and I got dressed up to go out with some guys we knew. We dressed as 1960s go-go girls: super short tank dresses, white go-go-boots, thick make-up, teased hair. What a mistake that costume was: I'll never forget trudging through snow in those go-go boots, which were authentic and were totally ruined..."

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"...The weather was so bad that night that we ended up staying at one of our guy friends house after the parties. I had to borrow some sweats from him because I was soaked to the bone. The next morning, when we got back to Suzanne's apartment in Dinkytown, my little college car was covered with snow and there was no way I was going to be able to drive home. We had to wait another day or two for my dad to dig me out. I remember walking through dinky town that morning with not a car on the street and even the McDonalds was closed. It was so peaceful."

Illustration by Tom Gau

Halloween snow story: car in ditch, cat costume donned

Posted at 6:27 AM on October 31, 2011 by Jon Gordon
Filed under: Climate, History, Weather

On the 20th anniversary of the historic 1991 Halloween snowstorm, we're sharing stories from our Public Insight Network sources and Facebook followers. Here's one:


"I was in Med school and was going to go to help/volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House Halloween party," writes Jamie Lyn Reinschmidt of Roseville.

"On my way there, I went into the ditch, fairly close to home but unfortunately still too far away. I was taken to the service station close by and had to wait for my car to be retrieved. The only hitch was that I was in my costume in order to be ready: a black cat complete with tail..."

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"...I could not count how many comments I received while waiting (lots of "cat calls" as it were). Unfortunately, I never got to the party myself but the party did go on for the families/kids."

Illustration by Tom Gau

Monday 10/31/2011
Halloween blizzard amazes, 20 years later

Posted at 6:20 AM on October 31, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Hed

As the east coast digs out from a freak snowstorm, we take a deep look today at the 1991 Halloween blizzard in Minnesota, share stories and look at whether the "perfect storm" could happen again.

Stories recalling the Halloween blizzard

Posted at 8:39 AM on October 31, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: History, Weather

Lots of stories in Minnesota media today remembering the 1991 Halloween blizzard.

The Pioneer Press has a good features with photos, including a photo of a couple guys who started the day golfing on green grass that day and ended their round in a snowstorm, managing with orange golf balls. Good times.

The best way to keep tabs on it is to read MPR's Minnesota Today feed of the latest stories looking back at the '91 storm. Check it out.

Any other stories or links on the '91 Halloween blizzard we should care about? Post them below or contact us directly.

Recalling Halloween blizzard as family struggles in east

Posted at 12:00 PM on October 31, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Weather

I was in an airplane the night of the 1991 Halloween blizzard, hoping to land at MSP, hearing grim reports from the cockpit about conditions on the ground and worried about about my wife, who I knew was trying to get to the airport to pick me up.

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I'd moved to Washington, D.C., for work a couple months earlier. Marta had stayed behind in Minnesota to finish up at her job. The plan was for me to fly in Halloween night, pack up a 20 foot rental truck the next day and we'd head back east together.

Circling above, though, I figured two-plus feet of snow would make that tough. After flying for what I recall was two extra hours, we got the OK to land. It wasn't a bad landing. Marta had made it to the airport after a white-knuckle three hour ride from Marine on St. Croix, a trip that normally takes about an hour.

When we called for the truck the next day, the rental guy said it would take two days just to dig the truck out.

Days later we were on the road. But while it stopped snowing the roads were still nasty. Interstate 94 was an ice sheet through western Wisconsin. I didn't really feel under control until Indiana.

Weirdly, as I write today about the Halloween blizzard here 20 years ago, my 79-year-old mother and other family in Connecticut are trapped at home with no power and no water from a freak blizzard that dropped upward of 20 inches in the northwestern part of the state.

They could be without power for for a week.

I don't want to get in a contest over which region of the country has the worst weather. Connecticut, where I grew up, doesn't get to 30 below. And most years there on the first day of spring, it really feels like spring.

But in the span of 10 months, my home state's dealt with a Christmas blizzard, , Hurricane Irene, which deluged the state in August and now this.

The 1991 Halloween blizzard on the air and in the news

Posted at 1:00 PM on October 31, 2011 by Molly Bloom
Filed under: Climate

The Duluth News Tribune Attic blog is also looking back at the 1991 Halloween blizzard. Duluth got hit harder than the Twin Cities and it has some great archival photos from the storm, like this one:

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A group of current and former UMD students didn't let the heavy snow deter them from enjoying an afternoon in a hot tub at a home on Second Street on Nov. 1, 1991. Clockwise from far right are Kris Simon, Mike Erickson, Brenda Berglund, Cal Matten, Dennis Karp, Jay Lyle, Becky Sunnarberg, Aaron Stoskopf and Eric Rajala. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)









Here's a story from then MPR reporter Tom Fudge about how St. Paul coped with the blizzard. It features an interview with Ron Gardenhire, who at the time was the third base coach for the world champion 1991 Twins and was trying to get home to Kansas.

MPR News' Gary Eichten spent a lot of time on air that day checking in with reporters around the state as well as people from the National Weather Service and others dealing with the repercussions of the storm. Here's a sampling of some of the people Gary talked to, including now CEO of American Public Media/Minnesota Public Radio Jon McTaggart -- who was at the time running our St. Cloud station.

The website TC Media Now collects and posts classic Twin Cities television clips and recently posted this half-hour special hosted by KARE 11's Paul Douglas. Click here to watch.

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How the '91 Halloween blizzard came to be

Posted at 11:00 AM on October 31, 2011 by Molly Bloom
Filed under: Climate, History, Weather

What happened in the 1991 Halloween storm, meteorologically speaking? MPR News meteorologist Paul Huttner explains.

About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.

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