Winter storms are a part of life in Minnesota. We shovel out and move on to the next one. But there are some storms that are never forgotten. One such storm is the Armistice Day Blizzard of Nov. 11, 1940.
The autumn duck and deer hunting seasons were underway. That fall had been mild with temperatures in the high 30s for several days in northern Minnesota and the 60s in the southern part of the state.
Snow flurries were in the forecast as duck hunters headed to the rivers and lakes while deer hunters headed for the woods hoping for easy tracking. Later, hunters recounted that massive numbers of ducks were moving rapidly through the area, seeming to know they needed to get away from the coming storm.
The Monday morning of Armistice Day was gloomy with light rain that turned to sleet and then to snow. Even today with forecasting tools far advanced from 1940, meteorologists say that snow amounts are the most difficult thing to predict. That day near the end of 1940 snow had been in the forecast, but no one thought it would be a major event.
By afternoon the temperature had dropped a lot, winds had picked up to gale force, and with the snow coming down steadily snow drifts were piling up. Throughout the state, drivers were abandoning cars and trying to get to any sort of shelter. Trains and buses were stopped and airplanes grounded. The massive, violent storm roared across the Midwest and on into the Great Lakes region. Record low-pressure readings were recorded.
The many deaths and destruction attributed to the storm happened for a variety of reasons — you could say it was “a perfect storm.” In a country still recovering from the Great Depression, many homes were poorly insulated and with no central heating. A mild fall meant many people had not yet stockpiled a winter supply of coal, heating oil or groceries. Outdoor clothing today, made from a variety of materials for greater warmth and water resistance, would have been such a help to people caught outside. Even large powerful snowplows and other outdoor equipment were not widely available then.
The following article is taken from the Hibbing Daily Tribune on Nov. 14, 1940, as people were beginning to piece together what all had happened.
~ Mary Palcich Keyes
Hibbing doctor has quite the experience
Dr. and Mrs. Joseph and Mary Arko probably owe their lives to a dog’s bark. Late Monday afternoon, when near Little Swan, caught in the blinding snowstorm, they were forced to abandon their car and plow through huge drifts in search of a house.
The experience started when Dr. Arko, who is a member of the Rood Hospital staff, and his wife left Hibbing Monday morning at 8:15 for Little Swan to answer a frantic call from Mrs. William Gustafson. They reached Mrs. Gustafson’s around 11 o’clock and left shortly afterward with a team towing them to the main road from the farm house. They were able to drive about 5 miles in the steadily increasing storm when they lost their chains and the Prestone of their car. It was getting dark about then and the couple decided to make an attempt to reach a farmhouse.
After struggling desperately for 2 and a half miles through the blinding blizzard and snow drifts, attired only in light clothing, they had practically given up hope of finding a haven, when they suddenly heard a dog barking. Following the sound of the dog’s bark, they reached the Jalanen farm, where they spent the night, after being given food and warm clothing.
Dr. Arko’s ears and one foot were frostbitten and Mrs. Arko had her legs frostbitten. Attired in heavy clothing, they left the next morning for the Erickson home, which had a telephone.
They trudged 3 miles to reach the place and, after the roads were plowed, managed to get back to their car, only to find it frozen. Some boys passing by built a fire under the radiator with newspapers and Dr. Arko, after breaking ice in a creek to get water for the engine, managed to get the car running.
They left about 8:30 Tuesday night and reached their home about midnight.
The following items are taken from the Hibbing Daily Tribune or the Mesabi Ore, which are on microfilm at the Hibbing Public Library and/or Iron Range Resource Center at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm.
Oct. 17, 1923
The wet damp weather of the last few days is especially welcome to duck hunters and many of those are now preparing to leave today for the lakes to the north. The weather has caused a run on the clerk’s office, and the number of licenses issued has been brought to approximately 1,000. In addition, nearly 1,000 free licenses have been issued to boys, as required by recent legislation. Yesterday was the first open day for the hunting of rabbits and this caused many youths to come into the office for licenses.
Nov. 10, 1939
Local movie fans will be kept posted on important “coming attractions” by an unusual advertising campaign which Standard Oil of Indiana starts today. By special arrangement with big Hollywood studios, pictures of featured stars will be given away at local Standard Oil stations.
Nov. 8, 1958
United States National Student Association will convene Friday and Saturday at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. Representing Hibbing Junior College Student Council will be President Ray Abel and Bob Nordvold, Kathleen Halberg, Barbara Kolbe, Don Christenson and Mrs. Ann Houle.