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Historical Armistice Day Blizzard Has Lasting Impacts

80 years ago changed weather forecasting forever

Nov. 11, 1940: Nearly 150 deaths were blamed on the Armistice Day Blizzard, which left a path of devastation 1,000 miles wide through the country and generated snowdrifts up to 20 feet tall. It followed an unseasonably warm morning and went largely undetected by meteorologists.
Nov. 11, 1940: Nearly 150 deaths were blamed on the Armistice Day Blizzard, which left a path of devastation 1,000 miles wide through the country and generated snowdrifts up to 20 feet tall. It followed an unseasonably warm morning and went largely undetected by meteorologists. (Minnesota Historical Society)

This Veteran’s Day marks 80 years that the Armistice Day blizzard roared through the Midwest, killing over 150 people, changing forecasting efforts forever.

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On the early morning of Nov. 11, 1940, residents of the Tri-States woke up to balmy weather in the 70s. Many took advantage of the fair weather by going duck hunting during the holiday weekend. By the afternoon, the weather changed drastically unknown to the hunters.

Temperatures dropped 50 degrees to the 20s. Many hunters not dressed for this weather accompanied by 50 mph winds and snow, were left exposed to the harsh elements for hours well into the night where temperatures were near zero.

Nov. 11, 1940: Nearly 150 deaths were blamed on the Armistice Day Blizzard, which left a path of devastation 1,000 miles wide through the country and generated snowdrifts up to 20 feet tall. It followed an unseasonably warm morning and went largely undetected by meteorologists.
Nov. 11, 1940: Nearly 150 deaths were blamed on the Armistice Day Blizzard, which left a path of devastation 1,000 miles wide through the country and generated snowdrifts up to 20 feet tall. It followed an unseasonably warm morning and went largely undetected by meteorologists. (Minnesota Historical Society)

Many boats the hunters used to get down the river were sunk, leaving no way to get to safety, resulting in the men freezing to death or drowning in the waves churned up by the strong winds.

This blizzard changed the way the Weather Bureau handled regional forecasts. Chicago was the forecast hub for the Tri-State area, but after the Armistice Blizzard, the need for more monitoring hours and branch offices was apparent.

There are several weather bureaus across the nation. Having more branches allowed for more accurate and localized forecasts for major weather events.
There are several weather bureaus across the nation. Having more branches allowed for more accurate and localized forecasts for major weather events. (National Weather Service)

More local offices were opened allowing for more accurate localized forecasts in different regions. There was a bump in coverage times too. Twenty-four-hour weather coverage was implemented. All of these changes resulted in more accurate, localized coverage of major weather events in order to ultimately save more lives.


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