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Winter ’96-‘97


It’s been a snowy winter so far…in Colorado, where three blizzards have already pounded the Denver area. In the meantime farmers in the northern Great Plains are praying for snow or freezing rain or any precipitation as government officials plan for a possible continuation of the drought much of our state has experienced the past couple of years. Drought was not on people’s mind around here during the winter of 1996-’97.

(sfx-weather report on radio…”more of the same in the weather today, another 6 to 8 inches of new snow expected on top of the nearly 5 feet we’ve already gotten this season. That, along with a stiff NW wind of 15-25 mph will make for difficult driving again today…”)

The first blizzard of the season roared across the state in the middle of November 1996, and by the end of the year, residents of the Red River Valley had already had enough to last them the winter. The novelty had worn off and people were tired of digging out of snowstorms. The head of the University of North Dakota’s Regional Weather Information Center, professor Leon Osborne, told the Grand Forks Herald in mid December, “We’ve already had a month of January weather and January isn’t even here yet”!

So far this year the National Weather Service in Fargo has measured about 8 inches of snow. By this time in 1997, there was over five feet of snow on the ground! The storms came pounding through with such regularity that Mike Jacobs, editor of the GF Herald, revived a tradition at the Herald and began naming the Blizzards!

(Jacobs quote: “ The Herald started naming blizzards in 1990. It was Greg Turasak’s idea. He was the managing editor at that time, and there have been 28 named blizzards since then. The last one was in 2003 actually, Blizzard Arlys in February of 2003. Of course the big year for blizzards was ’96-’97. There were 8 that winter…Andy, Betty, Christopher, Doris, Elmo, Francie, Gust and Hannah…and after Hannah which was the first weekend in April, of course, came the flood. Those names by the way are related to people we know an usually like! Hannah was named for the infant daughter of one of our copy editors. Francie was named for a foreign exchange student. Doris was named for a typesetter and so on.”)

English teacher and author Jane Varley moved from Virginia to North Dakota in the fall of ’96 to attend graduate school at UND in Grand Forks. In her book, “Flood Stage and Rising” she writes about that winter…”Blizzards made me feel my place in the world. I could see myself from above, a dot on the map at the top of North Dakota, snuggled into a pinpoint in the midst of white space. Winter erased the surroundings and made an empty expanse, the place beyond the end of the road I had always dreamed of finding. It felt like self-diminishment, shrinking beneath the power of much greater, humbling forces, and I was left alone with words and images, burrowing into our apartment”.

On this date, January 12th in 1997, President Clinton declared North Dakota a major disaster area, freeing up federal funds for snow removal. Little did he know at the time that the real disaster was still looming ahead.

Written By Merrill Piepkorn


“Flood Stage and Rising”, by Jane Varley

“Red River Rising” by Ashley Shelby

Mike Jacobs, Editor, GF Herald