Armistice Day Blizzard

On November 11, 1940, one of the deadliest blizzards this region has ever seen struck.

The Armistice Day Storm killed 49 people in Minnesota, 150 nationwide. One of the most tragic chapters of the storm occurred on the rivers, lakes and wetlands of the Midwest. Hundreds of duck hunters, trapped by the storm, found themselves in a life-and-death struggle. There was practically no warning the blizzard was on its way.

Rain turned to sleet and snow in the late morning on the 11th and worsened to blizzard conditions very rapidly, as snowfall rates approached 3 to 4 inches per hour. The air temperature fell by as much as 40 degrees F over 24 hours and ice as thick as an inch coated poles and phone lines, breaking many of them. Forty-nine Minnesotans perished, including many duck hunters. Thousands of game birds and a great deal of livestock and poultry were killed as well. Losses to the turkey industry alone exceeded 1/2 million dollars.

The weather was relatively benign the morning of the November 11, 1940. Many people were outdoors, taking advantage of the mild holiday weather. The weather forecast that morning was for colder temperatures and a few flurries. Few people were prepared for what was to come. The storm started with rain, however the rain quickly turned to snow. By the time the blizzard tapered off on the 12th, the Twin Cities had received 16.7 inches of snow, Collegeville 26.6 inches, and 20-foot drifts were reported near Willmar. In all 49 Minnesotans lost their lives in this storm, many of them hunters trapped by the sudden turn of events.

A total of 154 deaths were blamed on the storm. 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 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 based in Winona, Minnesota, 25 miles upriver from LaCrosse. He flew up and down the river in the wake of the storm, locating survivors and dropping supplies to them. In Watkins, Minnesota, 2 people died when two trains collided in the blinding snow. In Lake Michigan, 66 sailors died on three freighters, the SS Anna C. Minch, the SS Novadoc, and the SS William B. Davock, as well as two smaller boats that sank. 13 people died in Illinois, 13 in Wisconsin, and 4 in Michigan.