WDAY: The News Leader

Published March 15, 2011, 09:08 AM

70 killed in "Surprise Blizzard" of 1941

(WDAY TV) - It has been called: "The Killer Blizzard" and the "Surprise Storm." It was 70-years ago on this date that wind and cold blew through the Red River Valley, killing 70-people.

By: Kevin Wallevand, WDAY

That March 15th of 1941 started out a lot like this: A sunny early spring day. The snow was already gone, but early in the evening, just as people headed home to their farms and small towns, the pleasant day turned ugly in a hurry.

MARK PEIHL - Clay County Archivist: “A lot of farmers on Saturdays came into town and they were lightly dressed and they were caught in town or on their way home.”

Newspaper accounts from the day lay out the tragedy. Dozens from our area killed as they became trapped in the wind and cold.

JOHN WHEELER - WDAY Meteorologist: It was a nice day, 35-36 degrees and people were dressed for going to town on Saturday night in the spring.”

Clay County Archivist wrote an essay about the killer storm.

Mark: “Barns near Hawley lost roofs and the steeple on the courthouse was so damaged that they were demolished.”

John: “The interesting parallel is that the ones who died tend to be the ones who leave their cars and go on foot.”

The storm claimed entire families, a lot of babies and teen-agers. It seems no one was dressed or ready for the drastic drop in temperatures, and the ferocious change in wind.

“It was a very calm day, no wind, and when that thing hit less than an hour the winds hit more than 70 in Fargo and 90 mph in Grand Forks and the visibility was 0.”

Some came to town for dancing and roller-skating. Others huddled at a 4-H meeting at a farm near Hawley. Parents froze to death holding their children. Two 10-year old twin brothers near Dazey, North Dakota tried to save each other in the blizzard. Only one made it.

“68 and 75 people died that night and the vast majority was walking to find shelter.”

The storm, much like our modern day Alberta Clipper lasted just hours, had very little snow, a lot of wind and cold, and trail of loss still felt today. Hundreds of people that night attended a basketball tournament in Moorhead. They stayed in the gym and waited out the storm.