20th Anniversary of the Halloween Blizzard

Pumpkins wearing a snowy costumePumpkins wearing a snowy costume
Courtesy Star Tribune

The Halloween Blizzard of 1991 still stands as a benchmark blizzard in Minnesota that other storms are compared to 20 years later.

October Blizzards in Minnesota are rare, but they have happened in the past. The most severe early blizzard on record for Minnesota was the devastating October 16, 1880 storm. This storm left behind drifts of snow to 20 feet high in the Canby area and brought train traffic to a standstill over western Minnesota until the spring thaw. This winter is vividly portrayed in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Book: The Long Winter.

The Halloween Blizzard in 1991 is one of those weather events that people can recall what they were doing as it unfolded. Folks were still celebrating the Minnesota Twins second World Series win in just four years when a cold front ushered in unseasonably cold air. The high temperature in the Twin Cities was 65 degrees on the 29th, over ten degrees above normal. On October 30th, the high temperature in the Twin Cities only reached 32 degrees. By this time a low pressure area was developing around Galveston Texas. From the seasoned veterans at the National Weather Service to students studying meteorology at St. Cloud State, there was no secret that a large storm was coming. Most forecasts for October 31st for central Minnesota called for a cold rain by the afternoon. Possibly heavy. The primary question at the time was: "How much rain would fall?"

Snow Totals from the Halloween BlizzardSnow Totals from the Halloween Blizzard

As Halloween dawned back in 1991, some wintery weather was anticipated but no one was expecting a blizzard. The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Watch at 4:00 am on the 31st with a potential of a foot of snow. The first inkling that the forecast underprojected snowfall totals came when precipitation started falling as snow at about 11:30am in the Twin Cities, much earlier than anticipated. With the realization that the precipitation would be snow, not rain, a Winter Storm Warning was issued during the day by the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities and forecasters realized there was a potential for a lot of snow. As the afternoon faded into evening a surreal scene unfolded with kids attempting to trick or treat wearing coats and boots and pumpkins becoming covered with a snowy blanket. 8.2 inches of snow fell by midnight on the 31st at the Twin Cities International Airport, the most for the entire month of October on record for the Twin Cities.

The storm intensified and moved to southeast Iowa by the morning of Friday, November 1. The snow continued to pile up. There were a flurry of cancellations. 900 schools and businesses closed in Minnesota including 3M, Dayton's, Honeywell and the Carlson Companies. Meanwhile in southern Minnesota and in Iowa, where the precipitation remained as rain, one to three inches of ice formed on surfaces. This was the costliest ice storm in Iowa's history through 1991. Snow removal became difficult as the snow had started falling on warm pavement, which melted at first and then froze into icy ruts that proved to be very difficult to remove. 18.5 inches fell on November 1 at the Twin Cities International Airport, snow blowers in the metro area quickly sold out.

On Saturday, November 2nd, the storm became a blizzard with the low pressure center passing over Lake Superior. A blizzard warning was issued for much of Minnesota, as temperatures dropped into the teens in the Twin Cities during the day. Colder air filtered in the proceeding days with -3 at the Twin Cities Airport on November 4, the earliest below so early in the season back to when maximum and minimum temperature records began for the Twin Cities in 1872.

Duluth wound up with 36.9 inches of snow from this storm and was the largest single snowstorm total for Minnesota until 46.5 inches fell from January 6-8, 1994 near Finland in Cook County.

One myth about the Halloween Blizzard should be dispelled here. This was not the same storm that went on to be the "Perfect Storm" that was the basis of a book and movie. In fact, on the national news at the time, this east coast "Halloween" storm was the lead weather story and not the Upper Midwest Halloween Storm.

Some of the Twin Cities Records that were broken by the 1991 Halloween Blizzard were:


	Event	  			1991	Old Record (1891-1990)
        ---------------------------------------------------------------------
	Most single storm snow total	28.4	21.1 (Nov 29-Dec 1 1985)
	24 hour snowfall in any season	21.0	18.5 (January 23, 1982)
	Most snow on October 31		 8.2	  .4 (1954)
	Most snow on November 1		18.5	 3.6 (1941)
	Most snow in October		 8.2	 5.5 (1905)
	Earliest 8 inch snow		 8.2	 8.5 (Nov 8, 1943)
	Earliest autumn below zero low	  -3*	  -1 (Nov 11, 1986)

	All of these records still stand as of 2011.
	*-3 on November 4, 1991