GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - It was 27 years ago, but now-middle aged Minnesota and western Wisconsin natives remember the Halloween Blizzard of 1991 like it was yesterday.
"We were bundled cause my mom insisted we had to be be bundled up... but we refused to put it (winter gear) on top of our costumes so we got all bundled up and then squeezed our costumes on top of our winter gear," recalls Maple Grove mom Erin Welter.
High temperatures in the days leading up to Halloween that year were part of a recipe that led to that record-setting snowfall. with thermometers reaching the mid-60s on October 29, and then dipping dramatically to 32 degrees on the 30th. Forecasters predicted a storm for that Halloween, a cold, heavy rain event that was drawing a huge amount of moisture from the gulf.
By 4 a.m. Halloween day, 1991, the National Weather Service (NWS) knew there could be snow mixing in with the heavy rain, that the storm had intensified and was pulling a healthy batch of frigid Canadian air. It looked like the bulk of the moisture was going to come in the form of snow, with the potential of a foot or so.
You need to remember this was 1991: Weather information was not available on smart phones or social media. Major updates and changes to this forecast would only be available on radio and television. The snow started that fateful day at 11 a.m. and basically never let up. People struggled to get home from work and school as 3”-5” of snow was already piling up by late afternoon.
“As the afternoon faded into evening a surreal scene unfolded with kids attempting to trick or treat wearing coats and boots and pumpkins were covered with a snowy blanket,” read an article from the Star Tribune the day after Halloween. Minnesotans experienced in the woes of winter realized it would be a loooong season, with a start like they were experiencing.
By midnight 8.2” of snow had fallen, a record for that date (in fact, it was a record for any day or month of October in the Twin Cities). The storm had intensified and moved into Iowa by Friday, November 1, but the cruel mistress of winter was not done with Minnesota. The snow kept falling, class was canceled at 900 schools, and businesses including 3M, Dayton’s, Honeywell, and the Carlson Companies called it a week and closed. Stores across the Twin Cities sold out of snow blowers, and plows struggled to keep the streets clear due to huge, icy ruts that lasted in some places for weeks.
By the time Friday wrapped up there was another 18.5” of snow in the Twin Cities, making for the biggest single snow storm event to ever drop on the metro. We're talking 28.4 inches. It was also the earliest snowfall of this size ever, with the 8.2” falling on Halloween, along with the 24 hour snowfall total of 21”, also surpassing the old record.
Mother Nature wasn't done. On Saturday the storm morphed into a blizzard, triggered by a low deepening over Lake Superior. Blizzard warnings were issued for much of the state as temperatures plummeted into the teens during that afternoon. The cold air stuck around, and by November 4 the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport temperature was reporting a record-breaking -3 degrees.
In terms of statewide snow totals, Duluth wound up with 36.9 inches, Chaska 25 and Farmington 21.9 inches of snow.