National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce





Straight from the March 1966 Storm Data and Unusual Weather Phenomena Archive

Snow and blizzard conditions began Wednesday March 2nd and lasted through Friday March 4th in North Dakota.

In the 1966 storm, winds reported over 70 mph continued unabated for up to four days in some areas. Snowfall, reported as much as 32 inches in the northeastern part of the state, was piled into mountainous drifts of 30 to 40 feet high in many places over the state. For the first time in the history of many towns, schools were closed, all business was suspended, newspapers failed to publish, and all forms of traffic came to a complete halt.

Minimum temperatures during the blizzard were, in general, in the teens, with below zero temperatures not reported until Saturday and Sunday, after the blizzard had passed. This lack of severely low temperatures, which usually accompany such severe North Dakota blizzards, undoubtedly was partly responsible for the relatively few deaths which occurred directly as a result from the storm. Timely warnings, at least a day in advance of the storm; good dissemination; and modern communications undoubtedly all helped to keep the number of deaths to a minimum. No deaths could be ascribed to lack of warnings or forecasts, the cause of many deaths in earlier days.   

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Five persons in North Dakota died due to some related effect of the storm. A six-year old girl of Strasburg, fully clothed for the outdoors, became separated from her two brothers when the children went from their home to a barn 60 feet away. She was found two days later a quarter mile from home, frozen to death. Another girl, age 12, of Woodworth, slipped out of the house to close a chicken-coop door. She was never again seen alive after she started back to the house about 100 feet away. Her frozen body was found the next day, half-a-mile from home.

Three elderly men died as a result of heart attacks, probably brought on by overexertion. A 60 year old man in Linton died in his car after vainly trying to extricate it from a ditch into which it had skidded. A janitor was found inside a school where he had collapsed after shoveling snow from the walks. The third man, age 73, a farmer of Driscoll, was found frozen to death in his farm yard only a few yards from his home. Many minor injuries, directly related to the storm, occurred but none proved fatal.

The loss in livestock was serious, with an estimated loss of 18,500 cattle, 7,500 sheep, and 600 hogs. On a farm in eastern North Dakota 7,000 turkeys perished. Many cattle suffocated in barns which became completely sealed in by huge snowdrifts. Pole barns, in which stock were herded before the storm struck collapsed, resulting in many dead and injured animals. The total loss of livestock was estimated at near $4 million dollars.

The continual high winds piled snow in corrals and feed lots. Cattle, in their milling around, tramped down and compacted the snow until the level of the snow became higher than the fence. The cattle then wandered off and perished in open fields.  

All transportation ceased by the second day of the storm. Three transcontinental trains were trapped in railway cuts and within a short time were nearly covered with rock-hard snow, which defeated all efforts to free the trains until after the storm ended. Five hundred passengers were trapped for a time. Automobile travel, even early in the storm, was prevented by the huge drifts and by near zero visibility which in Bismarck continued for 43 hours without any let-up.

Power and telephone service were interrupted for up to several days in many areas, by the high winds and driven snow. Heavy drifts crushed sheds and aircraft hangers and many store windows were blown in. Snow was driven into attics and chimney vents were frozen, resulting in a number of cases of gas poisoning. Many all-time records for monthly snowfall, for snowfall during one storm and for 24-hour snowfall were broken. The length of duration of the blizzard, particularly in the southern half of the state, set many records as did the length of zero and near-zero visibility conditions. The snow, which carried large quantities of dirt, was dubbed “snirt”.

This 1966 blizzard can therefore be considered as an all-time record blizzard for North Dakota for sustained severity, low visibilities, and amount of snowfall.