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Scary facts about the Halloween blizzard of 1991

Halloween is creepy enough without a real monster knocking at your door. This Halloween marks the 30th anniversary of the Halloween "megastorm" of 1991 which wreaked havoc across the nation and even captured George Clooney's attention.

Some parts of Minnesota received more than 2 feet of snow during the 1991 Halloween blizzard. Forum News Service file photo
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FARGO -- If you think ghosts and goblins are scary, just try trick-or-treating in a blizzard. That's what residents in the Upper Midwest faced 30 years ago with the historic Halloween blizzard of 1991. The storm was a monster.

Here are some terrifying tidbits you might not have known.

The U.S. map for Oct. 30, 1991, showed a very active weather pattern. Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons / Special to The Forum

And so it begins

The storm, which mostly affected Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan, was born as moisture from the Gulf of Mexico collected over Texas the day before Halloween and met with a wave of cold air from Canada. The combination created what meteorologists would call a "megastorm." By the end of Halloween night, some parts of the Twin Cities reported 31 inches of snow on the ground.


Some parts of Minnesota received more than 2 feet of snow during a short period of time on Halloween 1991. Illustration by Gopher backer / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons / Special to The Forum

In its path

The National Centers for Environmental Information estimates 23 million people were affected by the Halloween storm. Record snow fell in Minnesota, while Iowa was crippled by freezing rain and ice. Twenty people died as a result of the storm, either from heart attacks while shoveling the heavy snow or in traffic accidents.

A snow day

On Nov. 1, children across Minnesota got to enjoy a day off eating the Halloween candy their parents probably couldn't pass out the night before. More than 900 schools and businesses were called off that day.

Thick ice covered power lines in Iowa and Minnesota, causing massive power outages. Forum file photo

But you couldn't watch TV

Some school kids who thought they'd enjoy lounging around watching TV on their snow day were sorely mistaken as 3 inches of ice downed power lines and poles and left at least 100,000 people in Minnesota and Iowa without power. Some homes were without power for a week.

It's estimated the storm's damage to utilities alone was more than $63 million.


Some couldn't go home

Winds of 60 mph, together with massive snowfall amounts, created snowdrifts as high as 10 feet. Hundreds of motorists were stranded near Albert Lea, Minnesota, and had to take shelter in a National Guard Armory and at a shopping mall.

Stranded motorists sought shelter at the National Guard armory in Albert Lea, Minn. Photo courtesy of National Guard / Special to The Forum

Hollywood took note

The Upper Midwest was not alone in dealing with a megastorm on Halloween. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist Robert Case said the storm’s intensity had been caused by a perfect alignment of several factors . "Such a convergence of weather conditions," explained Case, "occurs only once every 50 to 100 years."

Around Halloween, Hurricane Grace was moving up from Bermuda on a path to collide with a cyclone that had formed from the low-pressure front moving in from the Midwest and high pressure out of Canada. As the cyclone absorbed the power of what was left of Hurricane Grace, the storm intensified. If that weren't enough, another hurricane formed in the heart of the system. The end result was a storm that produced 100-foot rogue waves, 35-foot waves on the coast and 85 mph winds. It caused more than $200 million in damage to coastal towns and homes.

More than 12 people died, including the six-man crew of the Andrea Gail, a swordfishing boat caught at sea. Author Sebastian Junger immortalized that story in his 1997 book, "The Perfect Storm," and 2000 movie of the same name.

Meteorologist Daryl Ritchison, director of the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network, says the weather in New England even had an impact here.

"The 'perfect storm' off the East Coast likely adjusted the Halloween blizzard in the Upper Midwest to track slower for an increase in snow totals and longer duration of the high wind, than what would have happened if the storm in the Atlantic wasn’t there," he said.


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