The Armistice Day Blizzard

November 9, 2009 1 Comment

The morning of November 11, 1940 was unusually warm in Eastern Iowa.  The temperature had been in the 50s and 60s the day before, and most of the Midwest had enjoyed Indian Summer.  At 7:30 AM on the 11th Chicago reported 55 degrees, Davenport checked in with 54.  On the other side of Iowa, however, Sioux City’s temperature was 12.  It was turning into the “Perfect Storm”. 

Weather forecasting in 1940 was nothing like it is today.  In fact, the Weather Bureau’s Midwest Weather Headquarters in Chicago wasn’t even staffed at night, so no one saw the storm coming!  Even if there had been forecasters on duty, there was no such thing as a Winter Storm Watch or Blizzard Warning.  Most folks ignored the weather report because it was often wrong.  This storm had all the ingrediants…and it turned into what meteorologists call a “Bomb”.  The pressure at Des Moines that morning was 29.09″…at Charles City 28.92″.  Most home barometers don’t even measure that low!

That morning, since it was Armistice Day (now called Veterans’ Day), many had the day off.  Duck hunters in Minnesota and Iowa took advantage of the nice weather to head to lakes and rivers.  Most were dressed for the warm day.  The warm day didn’t take long to turn into a nightmare.  16 year old Jack Meggers was hunting with his dad near Harpers Ferry.  Jack said that the sky turned orange as the cold front moved through.  Hunters reported that they had never seen so many ducks in the air.  Thousands of the birds flew low to the ground, and the hunters had a heyday.  The ducks knew something that most hunters didn’t, though…and they were trying to outrun the storm. 

Within a few hours the temperature fell more than 40 degrees.  There was a brief burst of heavy rain, but that quickly turned to heavy snow.  The wind began to roar with gusts approaching hurricane strength.  Visibility fell to near zero.  Many hunters lost sight of the shore and were stranded on the water or on small islands on the Mississippi.  More than 150 lives were lost in the storm.  26.6″ of snow fell in Collegeville, Minnesota.  Drifts were 20 feet deep.

Excelsior Avenue in Minneapolis

Excelsior Avenue in Minneapolis

Cars stranded in the storm

Cars stranded in the storm

Morning weather map from November 11, 1940

Morning weather map from November 11, 1940

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  1. Loretta Parker says:

    This is the day I lost my father Chester LeRoy, in Peoria Illinois as he was out duck hunting with his brother, nephew and our dog on the Illinois river. None of them were able to make it back to shore and it took a week to find the body of my Uncle. A few newspaper clipping were kept and my Mother received a lot of cards and notes from people she didn’t even know.
    My mother was left at age 36 yrs, to raise 5 children in age from 14 to 2. A very hard time and I don’t know how she managed except in 1939 there was a change in social security to add survivers benefits for wives and children. That along with the help from family members and neighbors, somehow we survived.
    So as we honor our servicemen and women on this day, let us also honor those who were left behind to carry on from the damage of this tragic storm.

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