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Working to snowplow through the snowstorm of 1926 in Becker County. Photo courtesy of Becker County Historical Society

Snowstorms of the past

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life Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Snowstorms like last week's gave kids a day off from school, and in return, some parents the day off from work, and reminds us all that winter has arrived in Becker County.

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Though the winter is still young and there is plenty of snow yet to fall, this time of year can always bring up memories of past storms that froze the area, causing anything from lots of shoveling to untimely deaths. Here's a look back at several snowstorms, courtesy of the Becker County Historical Society and Museum and Detroit Lakes Newspapers records.

"Driven by tornadic winds, a snowstorm of unparalleled intensity brought sudden and tragic death to a Fargo couple in a swamp near Detroit Lakes Saturday night, left two young girls in the community in critical condition from frozen hands and feet, and before it had spent its devastating force, accounted for over 70 deaths in the northwest, including Joe Sear, farm laborer near here, who perished in a meadow seven miles south of Twin Valley. It was the most tragic blizzard ever recorded in the history of Becker County."

That graphic description came from the March 20, 1941, issue of the Detroit Lakes Tribune.

According to the article, winds were estimated at 70 miles an hour, with temperatures "dropping in a few minutes from 26 above to zero."

It says that there wasn't much damage done to the community, though some turkeys froze to death, and it wasn't nearly as lengthy as the Armistice Day blizzard from the previous fall, which raged for 50 hours. But, the 1941 blizzard did account for more deaths.

That Armistice Day blizzard of 1940 took place on Nov. 11-12, but there were no local deaths recorded due to the storm.

The Nov. 14, 1940, Detroit Lakes Tribune article says that townspeople said the storm that month would go down as the worst since 1873. Temperatures dropped from 45 degrees on Sunday to minus 9 degrees on Monday.

About 10 inches of snow fell in those two days (Monday and Tuesday), but with the winds, there were eight-foot snowdrifts on Washington Avenue. The storm took 40 lives throughout Minnesota, but none in Becker County.

A sidebar to the story also told how one year earlier, temperatures were 65 degrees above zero.

In the March 9, 1944, issue of the Tribune, yet another storm had hit Becker County, this time with nine inches falling and temperatures coming in at minus 21 degrees.

"This is the worst snowstorm and blizzard of the past winter, which struck with unexpected ferocity Monday and Tuesday," the article says.

Some of the record snowfalls by the month were 15 inches in March of 1944, 14 inches of January 1989, 14 inches in February 1946, and 13 inches in April 1946.

The storms of 1993-94 dropped multiple feet of snow as well. During a storm in January 1994, the Detroit Lakes Tribune said, "Blustery conditions made life miserable for pedestrians."

And as we all know, it doesn't stop there.

As for the memorably cold and snowy winter of 1996-97, "pure frustration is what's going on out here," DL Towing's Mike Johnson said in a Jan. 9, 1997, Tribune article.

On top of the 30 inches Becker County already had that winter, the January snowstorm dropped another 10-15 inches in two days. Wind gusts were up to 35 miles per hour, and it had rained right before the snowfall, making roads a treacherous mess.

Interstate 94 and Highway 10 were both closed from Friday evening until Sunday morning, and city and county plow crews worked from daylight to night to keep local roads cleared.

That wasn't the end of the snowfall for that season, either, as many remember, and many more can remember the flooding that took place that spring, when Fargo dodged a bullet and Grand Forks was overwhelmed by the surging Red River.

These are just a few of the recorded major snowfalls in the Becker County area over the years. One thing is certain — no one should be surprised that Minnesota will continue to have measurable snowstorms pretty much every winter.

Follow us on Twitter @DLNewspapers

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