Monday, March 15, 2004
On March 14th, 1941, the United State Weather Bureau forecast that North Dakota would have “increasing cloudiness… followed by occasional light snow at night and on Saturday and possibly in extreme west (today); no decided change in temperature.”
Many people made their weekend plans accordingly; the next morning they were encouraged with mostly fair skies and temperatures above freezing. Meanwhile, the forecast had been revised, saying “Light local snows tonight and Sunday with cold wave and strong northerly winds.”
By mid-morning, a stronger warning was issued, saying, “Stockmen are advised to protect their herds by driving stocks to shelter and housing young stocks.”
Late that afternoon in western North Dakota, the temperature suddenly dropped from 33 to 7 below, and winds picked up to 40 miles an hour. The Dickinson Press reported, “As sudden as the dropping of a curtain, a black fog of churning dust and snow blinded the prairies a thousand miles… With trepidation, northwest citizens kept close to their radios and exhausted newspaper supplies…to hear or read of the fate of communities and persons with whom they were familiar.”
Meanwhile, Bismarck was hosting the State Class A Basketball Tournament. At 6:30, KFYR put out a special bulletin announcing a dangerous storm approaching, and the tournament director warned the crowd not to travel out of the city that night. Farther west, hundreds of people were traveling to and from the Valley City Winter Show when the storm hit.
Out near Wing, Emil Erickson hitched a ride part-way home with a neighbor. Living only 2 miles from town, Erickson got out to walk the last mile. The storm came on so suddenly, he lost his way and died just 200 feet from his farmhouse.
Near Newburg, Edwin Berentson got out and rode on the front fender of a car to help guide the driver when they were struck by another car. He was lucky. He got away with only a broken leg.
Near Langdon, Harold Weiner, his wife, his daughter and infant son made it to the driveway to their farm, but when they got out of the car, the wind swept away the 8 year-old, and her parents ran to catch her. They lost their bearings, but finally came across a fence. Weiner scouted ahead and found his sheep barn, but when he went back for his family, his wife could no longer move. He dragged her and the children to the barn, where they spent the night. Weiner and the children recovered, but Mrs. Weiner died two weeks later.
That afternoon in Dazey, 17-year-old Leo and 15 year-old Donald Taylor were treating their 10 year-old brothers to an afternoon of roller staking. As they were driving the four miles back to their farm, their car stalled and they got out to walk. The following morning, the two teenagers were found frozen to death. A searcher saw an arm waving from a snowdrift, but it was the last gesture young Dickie Taylor made. He died minutes later, having protected his twin brother, who survived.
By the time the Alberta Clipper reached the Red River Valley, it was a bonafide killer. In all, 79 people died – 40 in North Dakota, 31 in Minnesota, and 8 in Canada. To learn more, read “Looking for Candles in the Window” by Douglas Ramsey and Larry Skroch.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm