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North Dakota is well known for its frigid and snowy winters. However, with only a few exceptions, North Dakota weather isn’t all that bad. It is the northern plains, and the weather comes with it. Snowy and cold winters are common, with occasional strong winter storms. The summer, however, brings in hot weather, often topping 100 degrees.
The northern plains are often known to have “two seasons” – cold and hot, with cold winters being publicized as standard weather. In retrospect, however, most Bismarck winters are relatively mild. True enough, temperatures have been known to plummet well below zero, and snow can pile up quickly.
The average coldest month is January, and warmest is July. The months with the most precipitation are May through August, with the least amount during the winter months.
Until 2008, Bismarck hadn’t seen a significant snow season since the winter season of 1996-1997, receiving less than average snow amounts for most of the years between. According to most accounts, the single biggest snow storm to strike the Bismarck area since its founding was the March 1966 Blizzard, which dumped 22 inches of snow on the region.
The 1996-1997 season received more snow than any other season, with a total of 101.6 inches, due partly to the April 1997 Blizzard. The Blizzard of 1997 was the worst winter storm since the Blizzard of 1966, receiving a total of 17 inches of snow.
The Winter Season of 2008-2009 has proven to be a contender as one of the worst seasons on record. December 2008 saw more snow than any other month, beating the old record set in March 1975. In addition to high snow totals, Bismarck has seen rain 3 times during the 2008-2009 season.
On January 15, 2009, Bismarck reached -44oF, the coldest temperature since January 18, 1950. The lowest temperature ever recorded in Bismarck was only one degree colder, and only recorded twice – January 13, 1916 and February 16, 1936. Remarkably, the high temperature the following day was 80 degrees warmer.
Interesting enough, the 2011-2012 Winter Season ended as the 7th warmest on record, with an average temperature of 23.3 degrees; only two winter seasons following one of the worst on record for the region.
Another major snow storm was the Blizzard of January 1897, which lasted ten days. Other years seeing major winter storms have included 1941, 1966, 1975, 1997, and 2009.
Snow Season Records
- 1996-1997: 101.6 inches
- 2008-2009: 100.2 inches
- 1993-1994: 91.8 inches
- 1949-1950: 86.8 inches
- 1978-1979: 83.0 inches
- 1981-1982: 80.3 inches
- 1995-1996: 80.1 inches
- 2010-2011: 72.0 inches
- 1986-1987: 67.9 inches
- 1994-1995: 67.1 inches
Bismarck’s summers are frequently met with high temperatures and big storms. Heavy rain and hail are common with these storms, along with strong winds, which often uproot trees.
One of Bismarck’s worst summer storms hit in June 2001, when $260 million in damage occurred from a combination of hail and 50+ MPH winds. Another hail storm in 2005 caused nearly $100 million to Bismarck-Mandan.
Tornadoes are found frequently across North Dakota during the summer months, however Bismarck has luckily seen limited damage from tornadoes. The latest recorded tornado to hit Bismarck was when a series of tornadoes hit the Bismarck area in November 2000.