The upbeat weather forecast announced on this date in 1941 proved fatal to dozens along the Red River Valley. North Dakota forecasters predicted light local snows and a possible cold wave for the weekend, but by Saturday night, a deadly blizzard had moved south from Canada and tore through the eastern part of the state, leaving over sixty dead. The enormous number of deaths was largely blamed on the weather forecast, which led many people to make weekend travel plans.
Weather records from Fargo’s Hector Airport illustrate how quickly the deadly storm moved in: within an hour, winds increased approximately sixty miles per hour, reaching speeds of up to eighty miles an hour, creating tornado-like conditions. With the addition of blowing snow and ice, several people actually suffocated from the storm.
At the time, forecasts for the state were issued from the federal Weather Bureau in Chicago. A single forecast was issued for the entire state, which local officials would amend depending upon local conditions. Broadcasters along the Red River Valley felt no need to alter the forecast, which called for minor winds and snow. Therefore, many rural residents made their weekly trips into nearby towns for the day.
When the weather took a turn for the worse, most of these families were heading home that evening. This was the case near Fort Ransom, where a father and son froze to death. Their tracks suggested that the 73-year old man died first, and that his 11-year old son died while attempting to drag him to safety. A family near Dazey was found the following morning, frozen in place as they tried to reach their farm home, and two cousins near Hannah perished walking home from a 4H Club meeting.
The storm proved one of the deadliest in the state’s history, causing more fatalities than even the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
Dill, Joseph (ed.). 1988 North Dakota: 100 Years: p. 70. The Forum Publishing Company: Fargo, ND.
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. Monday (Evening ed.), March 17, 1941; pp. 1, 6-8.