It certainly proved to be one of the cruelest tricks ever on Halloween three decades ago.
This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of the 1991 Halloween Blizzard. It wasn’t so much a blizzard in this region of Minnesota, but rather a large ice storm that crippled most of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. The Twin Cities metro area and north took the brunt of the blizzard with Duluth receiving a whopping 37 inches.
Between the blizzard and the ice storm, 22 people were killed and more than 100 injured. In southern Minnesota, 11 counties were declared a federal disaster area. Included in that area was Freeborn and Mower counties. Property damages totaled $11.7 million.
At the height of the storm, a 180-mile stretch of Interstate 90 from South Dakota to Rochester was closed.
I remember this storm very well as I was a cub reporter for KAAL-TV in Austin. At the time, I lived in Albert Lea and remember being stuck there for days. A major ice storm shut down the entire region as most people lost power, some for nearly a week. Austin and Albert Lea were the hardest hit from the ice.
More than 200 linemen were brought in from various co-ops to assist Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services. Linemen put in 14-hour days clearing roughly 1,200 broken poles from ditches and roads.
Because of that particular storm, more power lines are now buried underground.
KAAL was knocked off the air for a time period. I remember thinking what a great time for a TV station to be silenced when people are depending on news and information the most. But then again nobody could watch because they didn’t have power any way. It certainly was a crazy time.
For me, few storms have ever stuck out in my mind like this one did. Parents and young adults remember kicking off that night trick-or-treating in chilling winds that only grew stronger and brought rain that quickly turned streets into skating rinks.
Once we were able to get safely out of town, which I think was a couple days later, I recall cruising the countryside getting footage with my photographer. It amazed us how power lines had toppled over just like match sticks. The ice also hammered trees.
As much as three inches of ice downed the power lines and poles. With winds up to 60 mph and snowdrifts up to 10 feet, hundreds of motorists became stranded and had to take shelter in the National Guard Armory and a local mall in Albert Lea.
By most accounts, it was a terrifying, deadly storm that struck with no notice. Some rain had been forecasted, but not the snow or ice and certainly not the amounts that came with it.
It will go down as one of the most, if not the most, memorable storm I’ve ever covered in my journalism career.
And the lesson learned from 1991 was simply how powerful and fierce Mother Nature can be without any warning.
On the 30th anniversary, it appears things will be much calmer for Halloween this year. We certainly don’t need to go in hot pursuit of a repeat of 1991.