FARGO —On March 15, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor was still more than eight months away, the big-band music of Glenn Miller, Harry James and Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey was taking over the radio and the Upper Midwest was about to see a beautiful spring day turn snowy, windy and deadly.
The Ides of March Blizzard that struck from March 15-17, 1941, ranks as one of the worst in the Red River Valley's recorded history and one of the most disastrous ever nationwide. Over three days, the storm claimed the lives of 72 people, including 38 in North Dakota, 28 in Minnesota and five in Canada.
In an article commemorating the 75th anniversary of the storm, the Grand Forks Herald summed up the horror of the storm: “The blizzard slammed into the valley virtually out of nowhere with the force of a tornado or a hurricane and turned what had been a bright, sunny, warm spring-like day into a raging nightmare.”
Meteorologist Daryl Ritchison says there was really no warning.
“It came out of nowhere,” he says. “It didn’t really snow that much, but the winds were ferocious so you couldn’t see anything.”
Connie Kurpius-Hannesson, of Crookston, Minn., shared a story with The Herald as told by her father, Edward Kurpius, about the blizzard all those years ago.
"March 15 dawned a beautiful, warm day hinting at the approach of spring,” she said. “Following a long, hard winter that had begun with an Armistice Day blizzard, many had cabin fever and took advantage of the sunshiny day to be out and about. Little did anyone know that the worst blizzard of the century was only hours away.”
Edward remembered the winds, estimated at 80 to 85 mph, sounded “like a freight train hitting the house.”
Ritchison says because it was a warm day, people were not dressed for a winter storm. Many were trapped in cars that were not made to withstand the elements. Even so, those who stayed with their cars were usually better off than those who abandoned their vehicles.
Many of the deaths came from people leaving stalled cars trying to walk to safety but eventually succumbing to the elements. The Ides of March blizzard, perhaps more than any other in the 20th century, is the reason people are urged not to leave a car in a blizzard.
Here is the list of victims found in North Dakota and Minnesota, as reported in the March 18, 1941, edition of the Grand Forks Herald.
- Rosalie Anderson, 14, found frozen to death near Michigan.
- Bernice Smaage, 14, found frozen to death near Michigan.
- Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Reep, Devils Lake, found dead 2 miles from their abandoned car, 14 miles northeast of Devils Lake.
- Andrew Bjork, 50, found frozen 2 miles south of the farm he worked on, 14 miles west of Bottineau.
- Gust Carlson, 67, near Lakota.
- Mrs. Olaf Christianson, farm widow, near Pekin.
- Andrew Hagen, 55, near Dahlen.
- Mrs. John Kallestad, Michigan.
- Mr. and Mrs. Nickolaus Heuchert, prominent farmers near St. Thomas.
- Frances Waters, about 21, near Kelso.
- Florence Howry, 14, and sister, Katherine, 21, Pembina.
- David Sterling, 14, Glasston.
- Peter Smiley, 60, near Michigan.
- Louise McLeod, 12, and Kenneth Nickerson, 11, near Hannah.
- Mrs. Jacob Hoffman and her daughter, Ervone, 4, Munich.
- Henry Friesen, Munich.
- Mr. and Mrs. Paul Norberg and son, Ralph, near Bottineau.
- Albert Jacobson, 76, and son, Albert, 11, near Fort Ransom.
- Bernice Larson, 21, Gardner.
- Three Taylor brothers, Lee, 17, Donald, 15, and Dick, 10, near Dazey.
- Carl D. Hillesland, 72, Aneta.
- J.E. Bunday, Oakes.
- Raymond Johnson, 24, Valley City, died near Cooperstown.
- Mrs. Nancy Charon, 73, Park River.
- Sever Reep, 42, near Michigan.
- Frank Meyers, 73, near Grand Forks.
- Mrs. William Baumgartner, 50, near Cando.
- Emil Erickson, 55, found frozen 200 feet from his farm home 2 miles west of Wing.
- Mrs. Orland Bailey, Bemidji, 5 miles west of Crookston.
- Joe Sears, Detroit Lakes, near Twin Valley.
- Mrs. Anita Petruchek, 43, St. Paul.
- Ali Luzaich, 62, Chishom, frozen near home.
- Francis Weckwerth, 21, Hazel, near Thief River Falls.
- Mrs. Palmer Peterson and 5-year-old son, near Crookston.
- Mrs. Oscar Sandy and 9-month-old baby, near Ada.
- Wilbert Treichel, 6, Ada.
- Mrs. Peter Bjerken, about 45, and son, Palmer, 8, near Mahnomen.
- Mr. and Mrs. John Lennox, Fargo, near Detroit Lakes.
- Berg Moren, 58, near Wylie.
- Mrs. Alphonse La Rochelle, about 30, near Crookston.
- Irvin Engebretson, near Fosston.
- Mrs. Elmer Green, near Crookston.
- Mr. and Mrs. Ludwig Foss and daughter, Roselyn, 18, Beltrami, found frozen near Lockheart.
- Mr. and Mrs. E.L. Ellington, Grand Forks, near Crookston.
- Harriet Coger, Grand Forks, near Crookston.
- Sid Bonaime, 26, station agent, Tilden Junction, east of Crookston.
- Mr. and Mrs. Erick Soltveit, Oslo.
- Elmer Maland, 42, near Halstad.
- Mrs. John Janzen, 43, and daughter, Marie, 6, Winkler, Manitoba.
- Isaac Fast, 36, Niperville, 25 miles south of Winnipeg.
- Frank Ebel, 57, Halbrite, Saskatchewan.
- Arthur Baitan, Crystal Hill, Saskatchewan.
- Unidentified man near LeTellier, 10 miles north of Emerson, Manitoba.