National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce


A strong Colorado Low brought a significant storm to North Dakota during April 4th through 7th, 1997, resulting in the worst blizzard of the season for the state. 

Abnormally warm weather to start the month of April had much of North Dakota thinking spring had arrived, with high temperatures in the 60s and 70s the first few days of the month. A deep surface low moved out of Colorado and into the Northern Plains, with precipitation starting on Friday the 4th as rain in the eastern part of the state and freezing rain or sleet in the west. By Friday evening, the freezing rain and sleet had changed over to all snow in the west, moving into the central part of the state by Saturday afternoon and into eastern North Dakota later that night. Snow was accumulating at an average rate of 1.5 to 2 inches per hour, with 50 to 60 mph winds as well, leading to blizzard conditions. The blizzard ended in the west on the morning of Sunday the 6th, but continued into the evening across the east. The additional snow at Bismarck brought the season snowfall total to 101.4 inches, which is still the all-time seasonal snowfall record. 

Total damage was estimated to be $44.7 million, with 2 fatalities and 16 injuries. An estimated 100,000 head of cattle (10% of the state's herd) was lost, with a large percentage of that being calves and yearlings. Many power poles fell from the weight of the ice and snow combined with the strong winds. It's estimated that over 300 wooden poles had to be replaced, with one power company reporting about 100 steel towers damaged or destroyed with over 200 miles of transmission line down. An estimated 75,000 homes were without power for sometime over the weekend, with a few houses having to wait 4-5 days before power was fully restored. I-94, I-29, and all other major highways in the state were closed for the weekend. On Monday the 2nd, President Clinton declared North Dakota a disaster area for the 2nd time that winter, which freed up grants and made low interest loans possible.

Cars covered in snow in the Kirkwood Mall parking lot in Bismarck, ND.

(North Dakota State Historical Society Collection 32228 Item #00002-00010)

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