1975 Blizzard of the Century

January of 1975, married less than 2 years, I still worked at 3m in Hutchinson, 20 miles away.  We signed the papers on our first mortgage the previous fall commiting ourselves to a $23,500 debt.  Aarrgh, don’t even go there!

jan10-1975-pic-1.jpg
The half buried vehicle you see is the ’69 Chevy Impala that Honey had driven back to MN from his Navy base in Pensacola, Florida in ’72.  Man, that was a great car — roomy, smooth and heavy, and perfectly balanced on ice and snow.  It went through everything nasty that could be on pavement as if it were sunny and dry.  However, I did succeed in putting it into a ditch later that winter.  Just once.  Oh, and once for the Mustang, too, both incidents in two consecutive days, same curve.  That’s another blog.  BTW, I’ve only ditched once since then, on glaze ice, a freebie, doesn’t count.

The Blizzard of the Century hit on the 10th of January, ’75.  The previous weekend there had been blizzard threats from all of the weather-dudes.  3M had sent people home early.  It fizzled.  This particular weekend, the news was equally grave.  Fool me twice, shame on me was the official call until a longterm employee marched into Mr. I’m The Boss’ office and demanded that he care.  Grudgingly, they let us leave around 4pm.   The storm had begun in earnest and was just tuning up.

I had been car pooling with my friend Kathy and the Presbyterian minister’s daughter.  It was my turn to drive and because the Mustang tended to fishtail on dry roads, I was driving the Chevy.  We piled in and headed home across open prairie facing heavy crosswinds.  Something told me to push the pedal as hard as I could without spinning us out of control.  I did that and gripped the wheel with both hands in a left turn position to counter the heavy west winds.  The snow was rapidly thickening both in the air and on the ground.  By the time I was exactly 5 miles from home, having cleared the two curves around Lake Minnebelle, my only clue to where to drive was the telephone poles barely visible on either side.  Ok, aim for the middle.  Simultaneously, the wipers were clogged and stuck. Kathy bravely got out to snap the snow off and was blown off her feet.  If I hadn’t been hanging on to her free arm she would have disappeared into the white.

Two cars behind me, the lady who had plead our escape was driving slower than the required 35mph and the snow stopped her car.  Behind her was the sheriff closing off the road.

We managed to plow our way into town to drop off the PK and got stuck in her driveway.  As soon as I made it through our door, it worsened and Kathy was forced to stay with us.  We didn’t have time to dig her car out from under our Ponderosa Pine before dark anyway. 

There were no car phones, only rotary phones and land lines.  (Daddy, what does rotary mean?)  When I got in the house, I was instructed to call my mother-in-law.  She had spent the last two hours pacing and crying, worrying about me.  That was the first time I really realized she more than just casually liked me.  I can look in the mirror and honestly say, ” You dummy. She loved you.”

The wind hurtled and howled around our little house all night; jan10-1975-pic2.jpg
the power flickered once or twice, and the temperature plunged to more than -20 by morning.  The next day, we were going to free Kathy’s car but for two things:  we couldn’t see it under the snow and fallen branches and we couldn’t open the front door.  Honey’s brother being in Texas at furniture market and we being in charge of his teenagers, we called the house and asked Kevin, the oldest, to come over on the snowmobile with a shovel and dig his way in.  “We’ll feed you.  Eggs ok?”

That snow barely fit the definition of snow.  It was grey, mixed with South Dakota dirt and beaten into the consistency of talcum powder.  It packed tight, deep, and high.  Drifts exceeded 12 feet in some areas.  And it stuck around for a long, long time.  Somehow tunnels were cut through the snow creating canyons and we drove to and from work on cobblestone of packed snow/ice for more than a week until it wore smooth.

Of course the old timers who remembered the November 1943 storm argued that this one hadn’t beaten the record.  I don’t know the criteria for the superlative award, but this one exceeded in wind and the other exceeded in snow depth.  Does it matter?  Which had the highest death toll?  That’s a wonderful goal.  I know that in 1975 there were people in the country who didn’t have enough insulin on hand to get them through any storm let alone this one.  They put a few officials in harm’s way who were obligated to deliver their meds via snowmobile in sub zero conditions.  Helloooo, this is Minnesota, in Jaaanuary! You don’t have enough life sustaining supplies??? (Sheesh)

We got snow every year in Minnesota.  Figure the odds against getting snow in winter. Thanksgiving was the usual starting point but other years, even in Minnesota, you weren’t guaranteed a white Christmas.  1979 was “green”.  It turned out pretty special in its own right.  More pics of that later.

This post is about being there through the extremes.  It gives you something to write home about.

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13 thoughts on “1975 Blizzard of the Century

  1. Nice story. Being a weather buff, it’s interesting to hear about this paticular storm, and at least for central Minnesota, it was the worst blizzard in modern day history. It broke the record for the lowest BP reading just before it reached the Canadian border. 20 foot drifts at Willmar and 27 inches of snow at Collegeville, I’m guessing Hutch had at least 20-25. I was only 4, but it occured on my birthday and I was in Minneapolis. The only thing I remember is that no one showed up for my birthday party!! I do recall the Halloween Blizzard very well as I was caught driving from Walker Minnesota to Minneapolis, not a good idea, I damn near died.

  2. I was 7 when this one hit. We lived in Southwest Minnesota near Windom. We couldn’t see the clothesline pole for two days out of the window. It was about 20 feet from the house. We just don’t get good storms like that anymore. Tonight’s is the first bad one we’ve had in the twin cities in awhile – if it happens like they say it will.

    • I remember hearing that people in rural areas who needed daily medication such as diabetics, had to have the local authorities take it out to them on snowmobiles at great risk to themselves. I’ve always wondered over the logic of people who 1. need meds 2. live in MINNESOTA in WINTER 3. don’t keep a minimum week’s supply on hand!! DUH!

  3. Hello there. It’s nice to run across another story of one who survived the 1975 Blizzard of Minnesota. My wife and I were living with my parents in Lakeville, MN and as I did every morning, I got up and went to work. I had seen many a storms before and was well prepared for anything that Minnesota could throw at me, or so I thought. The summer before, my dad had shown me some pictures that he had taken of the Armistice Day Blizzard. I saw some pictures of a man standing next to a snow drift that had been cleared across the road. The drift was at least twice and maybe three times the height of the man in the photo. I just had a hard time believing that was even possible, but I was to see snow drifts that big before I finally got back home again. I never did make it to work that morning. Got stopped by a snow drift about 15 high and completely covering the road and a car sitting on top of it. The poor guy had been doing the same thing that I was and ended up driving up the side of the snow drift before coming to rest at the top. That convinced me that I needed to turn around and go home. After another driver came along, the three of us were able to get the other car back off the drift and the three of us headed back the way we came. Wish I would have had a camera with me that day. I would have gotten some amazing pictures myself.

  4. The news of the monster storm of Jan.2011 sent me down memory lane and searching. Great to find recollections of the Jan.1975 storm I remember best. My mother frequently relayed their memories of Daddy getting stranded at work in the Armistice Day snowstorm of ’41, and I think I know those two Lake Minibelle tricky curves. That Fri.evening in Jan. ‘, my fiance and I said a hearty “So long!” to my mother, answering her concerns with a hasty “We’re just walking 3 blocks to play cards with Don and Linda. Back in a few hours.” We were hardy German-Americans who LOVED weather and challenges, and I had never NOT been able to get home before, so it didn’t occur to me to take my insulin with me for the next morning. Within the hour, it was clear that we would be bunking overnight with the friends. “No worries,” the guys said. “We’ll walk down in the morning and get your insulin.” The morning revealed that 50 mph winds with gusts up to 80 had driven snow so hard, that it lifted Don’s umber Dodge Duster right off the driveway and wedged a rock-hard snow drift underneath it! Later,he ran the engine to melt it down. But first, the guys took off walking in a near-whiteout, crossing ball fields and backyards, headed toward my home for medication. As my husband of 34 years states now,as he and Don continued walking(both men well over 6 feet tall) , “We were conversing, and suddenly, one step ahead of me, Don disappeared, and then I did, falling off a retaining wall,landing 5 feet lower, just fine, stunned but laughing, up to our shoulders in snowdrift!!” All ended well with the procurement of insulin, guys back at their house for a hearty breakfast. My folks lived just off State Highway 5 in Young America, and it took 4 days for the main road to be cleared and schools were closed 3 whole days. We were so glad to have both oil and wood burning heat. Several of my friends lost electricity and lived for days in their beds under frost-coated quilts to survive. 30 years of Florida living (job-related)and our children still love to hear us tell of our dating days and the Storm of ’75.

    • Wow. Just wow. There was another time I should not have survived. I took off by myself with no emergency car kit across South Dakota the day Clinton was elected the first time and got stuck in a white out. The freeway was elevated just enough that any attempt to exit was a leap of faith going downward. I had to stay driving. The only way I knew where the road was was to hug the back end of a 16 wheeler and hope he knew and wouldn’t jack-knife. Don’t tell me there isn’t a God who protects when He wants you to stay alive.

      • Well, Jane,that same God knows the plans that He has for us, the number of hairs on our heads and days in our lives, and before He created us, appointed works for us to do in His Kingdom here on earth. All the while He rejoices over us with singing!!! Too overwhelming for words, but it’s so good to know you know Him too!

  5. I remember this well…we were one of the few schools that actually opened that friday morning in SW Minnesota (Slayton). Immediately the weather deteriorated and it was announced we needed to go home. Unfortunately it was too late for the farm kids because country roads were closed to any travel at this point, so they stayed in-town with friends. For the next 3 days we stayed indoors, kept warm and watched TV. Speaking of tv, the tv power tower in Sioux Falls tumbled to the ground from the high winds. KELO had to use a back-up tower. We didn’t go back to school until Wednesday of that next week!

  6. When ever I think of a Blizzard I’ll always think of this one! At the time I was stationed at Offutt AFB near Bellevue south of Omaha, Ne. it just buried us there drifting over every thing it seemed. Only thing we could do after the first night was stay in the barracks after the winds picked up because youy couldn’t see a foot in front of you. They strung out ropes between the barracks and the chow hall so we could walk to the chow hall to eat. Was over a week or more before things got back to normal with the snow they had to move.

  7. I enjoyed reading your memories of that blizzard in January 1975 in southern Minnesota! I lived in Hutchinson at the time, and was a student at Maplewood Academy (that school on the hill). It was Friday afternoon, and I was working at the old Maplewood bookbindery when the boss came over to me and suggested that I shut my machine down and head for home, because the snow was starting to pile up. Since I lived in town, I didn’t live in the dormitories at Maplewood, and the other students were expected to finish out their shift. At the time, I remember thinking it was crazy to have to leave just for a snowstorm, because after all, I was a Minnesota kid, and snow was nothing unusual, but when I left the bindery and started walking the 2 blocks home, I realized just how bad it was! The depth of the snow wasn’t all that bad yet, but the winds were so severe, that I could not see more than an inch or two ahead of me, and the gusts were so severe, I had trouble catching my breath. It seemed like I walked forever, so knew my house had to be close, but I literally could not identify any houses, because the blowing snow was so thick, I couldn’t see. I ended up walking more than a block past my own home, and ended up knocking on a door of a house I did recognize, and the lady inside pointed me in the direction I needed to go, and I did finally find my home! By Sunday, we could no longer get either the front or back doors open, so had to attempt to leave the house through the garage door to walk down to the other end of town to check on my Grandmother, who lived across the highway from the 3M plant. When Dad and I opened the garage door, we saw nothing but a wall of snow! We literally had to dig a tunnel out of the garage to the street in front of our house. We finally dug up to daylight, and discovered that the snow had piled up over the roof our our house, and all that was visible was the chimney. The walk to the south end of Hutch was quite an adventure, and took a very long time, but we found Grandma alive and well, although without heat, telephone service, or power. I honestly cannot remember how long it took us to finally dig out of that storm, but it was definitely the worst blizzard I have gone through. I lived in Minnesota most of my life, and had seen tons of bad snowstorms, but nothing like that January of 1975!

  8. I was 15 and lived in Marcus, Iowa during this storm. Marcus is in NW Iowa. We lost some cattle in this storm and I will never forget the winds! It was horrible.

  9. I was admitted to St Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis the afternoon of 1-11-75 and delivered my first baby, a daughter, at 1030 at night. And watched the Vikings lose the super bowl 1-12-75. I had to spend a week in the hospital, I was unable to be discharged due to weather conditions. My friends wanted me to name her Stormy

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