Relying on street cars and automobiles to get home, many
downtown workers from St. Louis Park have stories to tell
about that fateful day. Please
contact us if you
would like to share yours.
November 11, 1940, was the date of what is referred to as
the Armistice Day Blizzard. (Armistice Day is now
called Veterans' Day.) This infamous and deadly
Blizzard killed 49 people statewide and more than 50 sailors
on the Great Lakes. The storm that started
west in Washington State dumped 16.2 inches of snow in the
Cities; a record 26.6 inches fell in Collegeville, by St.
Cloud. The temperature dropped to 30 below, with winds from
32 up to 63 miles per hour. 20 of the fatalities were duck
hunters, who had heard a weather forecast of light snow,
perfect for tracking. Duck hunters were delayed in leaving
by the temptation of the enormous flocks flying furiously to
get away from the front.
The storm hit the area by surprise: the day started out in
the 60s, and workers went to their downtown jobs on the
streetcars wearing light coats or sweaters. The Weather
Bureau predicted snow flurries and highs in the 40s, but at
9:30 am the barometer dropped so low it was off the chart.
By 10:00 am the radio reported that "unpredictable" weather was
ahead, and the temperature started to drop precipitously.
The snow started about 10:15, and by 11 it was coming down
thick and fast. By noon the streetcars were slowing down or
stopping, stranding workers in downtown hotels, their
offices, or anywhere they could find shelter. Even a
two-block walk from the bus to one's house was treacherous,
especially for women with bare legs and flimsy shoes.
Soon stalled out cars were abandoned by their drivers.
Prestone antifreeze was new at that time and cost
$10/gallon, so most people used alcohol, which was
ineffective at keeping the engine warm. Model As did the
best under the conditions, being so high off the ground, and
chains were about the only thing that allowed any traction
in the days before snow tires.
Newsboys who got the paper through were awarded a numbered
Certificate of Merit, which stated:
Know all men by these presents that, in the face
of actual physical danger, and with great bravery and
determination, and that on the day of the worst blizzard
the Northwest has ever known, the Armistice Day Blizzard
of November 1940, [newsboy's name] did perform his duty
in a courageous, noble manner, in delivering the Tribune
Newspapers to his subscribers against great
Of all the pictures of the storm, the most famous is the
one below of Excelsior Blvd., looking west through the footbridge of the Minikahda Golf Course. Cars were abandoned and stayed in the
street for at least five days. Many people in the area
walked on the rooftops of the cars to get to
Al's Bar, where
they proceeded to make the best of things for three days. In
fact, many descriptions of time spent waiting for the storm
to pass involved various local drinking establishments.
Minnesota Historical Society
Others made it to the American Legion hall and made good use
of the 200 dinners prepared by members of the Auxiliary for
the annual Armistice dinner. One man didn't make it out,
though: his body was found in his car "near the cut at the
Minikahda golf course."
It was estimated that 2,000 people were stranded on Wayzata
Blvd. Nearby homeowners took some people in, and some
found taverns along the way.
MARK SEELEY ON THE IMPACT ON THE WEATHER BUREAU:
In 1940 the Weather Bureau had just been transferred
from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of
Commerce, as more emphasis was being placed on
forecasting for aviation. District forecast centers
still had responsibility for large geographic areas. For
example, the Chicago office issued four forecasts per
day for Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin,
Minnesota and North and South Dakota. Early on the
morning of November 11th they had issued a moderate cold
wave warning for Minnesota. It had been drizzling on the
10th with some fog and moderate temperatures in the 40s
F. The low pressure system moving toward Wisconsin from
the southwest (Texas panhandle and Oklahoma) intensified
and winds strengthened. New barometric low pressure
records were later established at La Crosse (28.72
inches) at Duluth (28.66 inches), and at the downtown
Minneapolis Weather Bureau Office a near-record low
pressure of 28.93 inches was reported. Contrast this
with a cold high pressure system to the northwest in
Canada where the barometric reading was 30.7 inches and
it is easy to see why the Armistice Day Blizzard is
famous for having such strong winds, wind which averaged
over 25 mph for a 24 hour period, and gusted to over 60
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. Snow
removal and clean up to clear state highways, as well as
county and township roads was estimated to exceed 1/2
million dollars as well. Total snowfall at Collegeville
was 26.6 inches and snow drifts over 20 feet were
reported in the Willmar area.
This storm and the lethal March 15th blizzard the
next spring, prompted Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen
and Congressman R. T. Buckler of Crookston to criticize
the Weather Bureau for inadequate storm warnings and
lack of facilities in the state to provide 24 hour
forecasting operations. They wrote letters to Secretary
of Commerce Jesse Jones asking for support. Soon
thereafter Minnesota had a 24 hour forecast office and a
For stories of personal experiences with the storm,
including one chapter on how workers got home after the
streetcar stopped, read All Hell Broke Loose by
William H. Hull, 1985.
The Winds of Hell by Mark Steil, November 10, 2000
Also see the related story in
Something in the Water.