National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Armistice Day Storm:  November 11, 1940

Jeff Boyne, NWS La Crosse, WI

NOTE: Armistice Day changed to Veterans Day in 1954 to honor all veterans. More details here.

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On November 11, 1940, a rapidly deepening low pressure system moved northeast from Kansas City, MO northeast through the Upper Mississippi River Valley and into the Upper Great Lakes. This low pressure area produced the lowest pressure reading ever recorded up to this time at Charles City, IA (28.92 inches), La Crosse, WI (28.72 inches), and Duluth, MN (28.66 inches).

Armistice Day (now known as Veteran's Day) began with blue skies and temperatures in the 40s and 50s. The weather forecast for that morning was for colder temperatures and a few flurries. The day was so nice that duck hunters dressed in short-sleeved shirts rushed to the marshes along the Mississippi River early that morning.

During the late morning and early afternoon, a strong cold front moved through the region.  Behind this front, the weather became rather blustery and the temperature plunged to the single digits by the next morning. The rain turned to sleet and eventually to driving snow. Twelve duck hunters were trapped on the Mississippi River between St. Paul and Prairie du Chien by gale-force winds and threatening waves. These hunters sought shelter on small islands and eventually froze to death. Rescue work the next day was hindered by ice which had developed during the preceding night.

Elsewhere heavy snow fell across the Dakotas, much of Minnesota and Iowa, and northwest Wisconsin. The greatest snow total was 26.6 inches in Collegeville, MN. In addition, 30 to 50 mph winds caused considerable blowing and drifting of snow which trapped unsuspecting motorists.

Twenty foot drifts were reported near Willmar, MN. The blizzard left 49 dead in Minnesota, and gales on Lake Michigan caused ship wrecks resulting in another 59 deaths. The storm claimed a total of 154 lives, and killed thousands of cattle in Iowa. More than a million turkeys were killed by the storm in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and other states. The storm became know as the “Armistice Day Storm”.

This storm, along with a slow moving blizzard which would move across northern Minnesota in mid March 1941, caused the Weather Bureau to rethink its forecasting procedures. Forecasting for the entire region had been directed by the Chicago office, but in the wake of this storm, responsibilities were distributed to regional centers to provide more timely and accurate predictions.

Excelsior Boulevard, west of Minneapolis after the Armistice Day Storm Courtesy: Minnesota Historical Society
Excelsior Boulevard, west of Minneapolis
after the Armistice Day Storm
Courtesy: Minnesota Historical Society

La Crosse WI Temperatures & Wind Chills for November 11, 1940
Hourly temperature & wind chill trace
at La Crosse WI for November 11, 1940