1940 Armistice Day Blizzard

The Armistice Day Blizzard (or the Armistice Day Storm) took place in the Midwest region of the United States on November 11 (Armistice Day) and November 12, 1940. The intense early-season "panhandle hook" winter storm cut a 1,000-mile-wide (1600 km) swath through the middle of the country from Kansas to Michigan.[4][5]

Armistice Day Blizzard
Armistice Day Blizzard surface map
The storm track of the Armistice Day Blizzard
TypeExtratropical cyclone
Panhandle Hook
FormedNovember 10, 1940
DissipatedNovember 12, 1940
Lowest pressure971 mbar (hPa) (at Duluth, MN)[1]
Maximum snowfall or ice accretion27 inches (68.6 cm) (Collegeville, MN)
Damage$2.2 million (1940)[2][3]
Areas affectedMidwestern United States

Meteorological synopsis

The morning of November 11, 1940 brought with it unseasonably high temperatures. By early afternoon, temperatures had warmed into the lower to middle 60s °F (18 °C) over most of the affected region. However, as the day wore on conditions quickly deteriorated. Severe weather was reported across much of the Midwest with heavy rain and snow, a tornado, and gale force winds were all reported.[6] Temperatures dropped sharply, winds picked up and rain, followed by sleet and then snow, began to fall. An intense low pressure system had tracked from the southern plains northeastward into western Wisconsin, pulling Gulf of Mexico moisture up from the South and pulling down a cold arctic air mass from the North.

The result was a raging blizzard that would last into the next day. Snowfalls of up to 27 inches (69 cm), winds of 50 to 80 mph (80–130 km/h), 20-foot (6.1 m) snow drifts, and 50-degree Fahrenheit (28 °C) temperature drops were common over parts of the states of Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. In Minnesota, 27 inches (69 cm)[7] of snow fell at Collegeville, and the Twin Cities recorded 16 inches (41 cm).[8] Record low pressures were recorded in La Crosse, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota.[3] Transportation and communications were crippled, which made finding the dead and injured more difficult. The Armistice Day Blizzard ranks #2 in Minnesota's list of the top five weather events of the 20th century.[9]

Survivors describe the cold as so severe that it was difficult to breathe, with the air so moisture laden it was thick like syrup and that the cold seared the survivors lungs like a red-hot blade.[8] Many individuals claim that animals were aware of the upcoming weather shifts which led to animals moving rapidly from the area. Duck hunters who were out at the time were amazed at the amount of ducks that were in the area and on the move through the skies, one survivor recounting there were thousands.[7]


A total of 145 deaths were blamed on the storm, with the following instances being noteworthy:

  • Along the Mississippi River several hundred duck hunters had taken time off from work and school to take advantage of the ideal hunting conditions. Weather forecasters had not predicted the severity of the oncoming storm, and as a result many of the hunters were not dressed for cold weather. When the storm began many hunters took shelter on small islands in the Mississippi River, and the 50 mph (80 km/h) winds and 5-foot (1.5 m) waves overcame their encampments. Some became stranded on the islands and then froze to death in the single-digit (°F) temperatures that moved in over night. Others tried to make it to shore and drowned. Duck hunters constituted about half of the 49 deaths in Minnesota. Those who survived told of how ducks came south with the storm by the thousands, and everybody could have shot their daily limit had they not been focused on survival.
  • Casualties were lessened by the efforts of Max Conrad, a pioneering light plane pilot and flight school owner and John R. "Bob" Bean (one of the flight school instructors) both based in Winona, Minnesota, 25 miles upriver from La Crosse. They flew up and down the river in the wake of the storm, locating survivors and dropping supplies to them. Both men were nominated for the Carnegie Medal for their heroism.[8]
  • One survivor, Gerald Tarras, survived the storm in Minneapolis due to the two family Labrador dogs who lay beside him and provided body heat to protect him.[7]
  • In Watkins, Minnesota, 2 people died when a passenger train and a freight train collided in the blinding snow. Watkins residents formed a human chain to lead the passengers to safety.[10][11]
  • In Lake Michigan, 66 sailors died in the sinking of three freighters, the SS Anna C. Minch, the SS Novadoc, and the SS William B. Davock, and two smaller boats.[12]
  • 13 people died in Illinois, 13 in Wisconsin, and 4 in Michigan.[13]

Additionally, 1.5 million turkeys intended for Thanksgiving dinner across Minnesota perished from exposure to the cold conditions.


Prior to this event, all of the weather forecasts for the region originated in Chicago. After the failure to provide an accurate forecast for this blizzard, forecasting responsibilities were expanded to include 24-hour coverage and more forecasting offices were created, yielding more accurate local forecasts.[14]

The U.S. Weather Bureau was criticized that it failed to predict the huge blizzard, and Officials released a statement that they were aware that the storm was coming but wrong about its strength and scope. The Twin Cities branch of Meteorology was upgraded to issue forecasts and not rely on the Chicago site.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Williams, Jack (2001-11-28). "History, past weather events". USA Today. Retrieved 2006-12-21.
  2. ^ "Minnesota History: A Chronology". Minnesota State University Mankato. Archived from the original on 7 January 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-21.
  3. ^ a b Seely, Mark (2000-11-10). "Remembering the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940". Minnesota Climatology Office. Archived from the original on 2006-12-07. Retrieved 2006-12-21.
  4. ^ "Yesterdays News: Nov. 11, 1940: The Armistice Day Blizzard". Star Tribune. November 11, 2015. Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  5. ^ Service, US Department of Commerce, NOAA, National Weather. "Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940 Remembered". www.weather.gov. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  6. ^ a b c "Armistice Day Blizzard killed 49 in Minnesota: 2 survivors remember". Twin Cities. 2012-11-10. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  7. ^ a b c "The Day the Duck Hunters Died". Sporting Classics Daily. 2015-11-09. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  8. ^ "Significant Minnesota Weather Events of the 20th Century". Minnesota Climatology Office. 1999-12-16. Retrieved 2006-12-21.
  9. ^ Hull, M.A., William H (1985). ”All Hell Broke Loose: Experiences of Young People During the Armistice Day 1940 Blizzard”. Stanton Publication Services. ISBN 0-939330-01-6.
  10. ^ a b Steil, Mark. "The Winds of Hell". Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  11. ^ Cabot, James (March 19, 1991). "Armistice Day Storm - One of the worst to hit here". Daily News. Ludington, MI.
  12. ^ "Biggest Snow Storms in the United States". NOAA. Archived from the original on 13 January 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-21.
  13. ^ "N.W. Storm Rages On". Minneapolis Star Tribune. 1940-11-12. Archived from the original on 31 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-21.

External links

Climate of Minnesota

Minnesota has a continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters. Minnesota's location in the Upper Midwest allows it to experience some of the widest variety of weather in the United States, with each of the four seasons having its own distinct characteristics. The areas near Lake Superior in the Minnesota Arrowhead region experience weather unique from the rest of the state. The moderating effect of Lake Superior keeps the surrounding area relatively cooler in the summer and relatively warmer in the winter, giving that region a smaller yearly temperature range. On the Köppen climate classification, much of the southern third of Minnesota—roughly from the Twin Cities region southward—falls in the hot summer humid continental climate zone (Dfa), and the northern two-thirds of Minnesota falls in the warm summer great continental climate zone (Dfb).

Winter in Minnesota is characterized by cold (below freezing) temperatures. Snow is the main form of winter precipitation, but freezing rain, sleet, and occasionally rain are all possible during the winter months. Common storm systems include Alberta clippers or Panhandle hooks; some of which develop into blizzards. Annual snowfall extremes have ranged from over 170 inches (432 cm) in the rugged Superior Highlands of the North Shore to as little as 5 inches (13 cm) in southern Minnesota. Temperatures as low as −60 °F (−51 °C) have occurred during Minnesota winters. Spring is a time of major transition in Minnesota. Snowstorms are common early in the spring, but by late-spring as temperatures begin to moderate the state can experience tornado outbreaks, a risk which diminishes but does not cease through the summer and into the autumn.

In summer, heat and humidity predominate in the south, while warm and less humid conditions are generally present in the north. These humid conditions initiate thunderstorm activity 30–40 days per year. Summer high temperatures in Minnesota average in the mid-80s F (30 °C) in the south to the upper-70s F (25 °C) in the north, with temperatures as hot as 114 °F (46 °C) possible. The growing season in Minnesota varies from 90 days per year in the Iron Range to 160 days in southeast Minnesota. Tornadoes are possible in Minnesota from March through November, but the peak tornado month is June, followed by July, May, and August. The state averages 27 tornadoes per year. Minnesota is the driest state in the Midwest. Average annual precipitation across the state ranges from around 35 inches (890 mm) in the southeast to 20 inches (510 mm) in the northwest. Autumn weather in Minnesota is largely the reverse of spring weather. The jet stream—which tends to weaken in summer—begins to re-strengthen, leading to a quicker changing of weather patterns and an increased variability of temperatures. By late October and November these storm systems become strong enough to form major winter storms. Autumn and spring are the windiest times of the year in Minnesota.

SS Edward Y. Townsend

The SS Edward Y. Townsend (official number 203449) was a 603-foot (184 m) American Great Lakes freighter that served on the Great Lakes of North America. She was primarily used to haul bulk cargoes such as iron ore, coal, grain and occasionally limestone. She was in service from her launching in 1906 to her sinking in 1968. She is best known for sinking on the way to the scrapper, near the RMS Titanic, off the coast of Newfoundland.

SS Henry A. Hawgood

The Henry A. Hawgood was an American steel hulled propeller driven lake freighter that was built by the American Ship Building Company of Cleveland, Ohio for service on the Great Lakes of North America and Canada. She was used to haul bulk cargoes such as iron ore, coal and grain.

SS Henry Phipps

The Henry Phipps was a 601-foot (183 m) long American Great Lakes freighter that served on the Great Lakes of North America from her launching in 1907 to her scrapping in 1976 by Hyman Michaels Company of Duluth, Minnesota. The Phipps was used to haul bulk cargoes such as iron ore, coal, grain and occasionally limestone.

SS J. Pierpont Morgan

The J. Pierpont Morgan, named after legendary banking titan J. P. Morgan, was a 601-foot (183 m) long American steel hulled propeller driven Great Lakes freighter that was a product of the Chicago Shipbuilding Company of Chicago, Illinois. The Morgan hauled bulk cargoes such as iron ore, coal, grain and occasionally limestone across the Great Lakes of Canada and North America. She served her whole career without any major incidents. She was the first of three identical sister ships, these were the Henry H. Rogers and the Norman B. Ream.

SS William C. Moreland

SS William C. Moreland was a 600-foot (180 m) long Great Lakes freighter that ran aground on Sawtooth Reef, Lake Superior on 18 October 1910, only a month after entering service.The crew couldn't see a thing because of smoke from several forest fires, due to this William C. Moreland ran full steam on to the reef. There were many attempts to salvage the ship, but eventually only the 278-foot (85 m) long stern was salvaged and was used to build the 580-foot (180 m) long Sir Trevor Dawson.The Dawson was christened on 18 October 1916, exactly six years after the Moreland wrecked. The Dawson continued to sail for fifty four years until she was scrapped in 1970, in Spain as the steamer Parkdale.

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