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Black Blizzard


Much of the upper Midwest found itself in the throes of an extreme blizzard on this date in 1975. The storm ravaged nearly all parts of the entire country, extending from the northwestern coastal states to many of the southeastern states. While blizzard conditions roared in the Midwest, the southeast faced a tornado outbreak, producing forty-five tornadoes over a four-day period.

In North and South Dakota, the heaviest snows fell. The blizzard became known as the ‘Black Blizzard’ here, due to the tremendous amount of topsoil blown into the swirling snow; the soil and snow mixture darkened the skies, creating a blackening effect. In Minnesota, the storm was labeled the “Storm of the Century.” It remains a contender as one of the most devastating storms to strike the U.S.

The blizzard began as a powerful storm blown off of the Pacific. It traveled over the Rockies into Oklahoma, where it met a stream of warm tropical air pulled northward from the Gulf of Mexico. A simultaneous low pressure system moving southward from Canada met the storm over the northern Great Plains, creating the powerful blizzard conditions there while spurring the massive tornado outbreak to the south and east. The storm produced record low pressure readings in Minnesota, and temperature and snowfall records elsewhere. North and South Dakota suffered wind chills of eighty below and wind speeds of up to ninety miles per hour. In Sioux Falls, visibility was recorded below a quarter of a mile for over twenty-four hours, and the 2,000-foot high nearby WSKC radio tower toppled from the high winds. In North Dakota, twenty-foot snow drifts littered the area and some roads were closed for over a week. Twelve North Dakotans, eight South Dakotans, and sixteen Minnesotans lost their lives in the storm, as well as over 100,000 farm animals. In total, fifty-eight individuals died due to the blizzard, and twelve lost their lives due to the tornadoes churning to the south.

Although the storm began as a light snowfall on Friday, January 10th, by January 11th, it had grown to its full force, trapping many people in their homes. On January 12th, most of the shut-ins watched the Minnesota Vikings play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl IX, giving rise to the storm’s other nickname, the Super Bowl Blizzard.

Dakota Datebook by Jayme L. Job


Schwartz, Robert M., Thomas W. Schmidlin, 2002: Climatology of Blizzards in the Conterminous United States, 1959–2000. J. Climate, 15: 1765–1772.