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2008-2009 Winter Season / Blizzard

By | Last Modified: July 14, 2020

Person poses in front of a snow pile during the 2008-2009 season.

The Winter Season of 2008-2009 was a multi-record-breaking winter season that statistically ranks as one of the worst on record.

Among other notable records, the culminating season ended in second place for all-time snowfall, behind the record by a mere 1.4 inches, as well as recording the coldest temperature in nearly sixty years… since January 18, 1950. December 2008 set a new record for the snowiest single month, beating the previous record set in March 1975.

The first winter storm began with record-setting rainfall on the evening of November 5th and into the early morning of the 6th. Throughout the day, temperatures dropped, freezing the rain that fell. Snow arrived mid-afternoon, covering the icy roads, and continued to fall until the following day. As a result, Bismarck Public Schools called off classes for the first time since the April 1997 Blizzard. 9.4 inches of snow fell on Bismarck from that single storm. In itself, the storm was hardly note-worthy, but it was the first storm of the mighty winter season.

December proved particularly remarkable. The season’s second major storm arrived December 13th, producing another 12.5 inches amid record low temperatures. By midmonth, it was officially the snowiest December, surpassing the old record of 21.7 inches set in 1916. In the end, Bismarck received snow on 25 of the 31 days that month, ending with 33.3 total inches – the most received in any given month, beating the old record of 31.1 inches set in March 1975. On top of the snowfall records broken, the average temperature for the month was only 6.8 degrees – 8.4 degrees below average.

On January 15, 2009, Bismarck reached -44oF, the coldest temperature recorded since January 18, 1950. The lowest temperature ever recorded in Bismarck was only one degree colder; achieved twice: January 13, 1916 and February 16, 1936. Remarkably, the high temperature recorded on the following day was 80 degrees warmer.

Less than a month after nearly breaking the all-time coldest temperature record, rain fell on the region on February 9th and 10th, again turning into snow. Bismarck was spared a major snow storm, however, unlike most of the state.

Another major storm arrived March 29th, dumping more than 11 inches in the overnight hours – pushing Bismarck’s all-time season snow total into 2nd place. By the end of the storm, on March 31, a total of 17.1 inches had fallen in Bismarck – the most snow received from a single storm in twelve years.

As the record-breaking snow began to melt, widespread flooding was a growing concern across the state. It was Bismarck’s worst flooding event since April 1952; a feat that will be later surpassed in 2011. The Garrison Dam was built to alleviate regional flooding, but the record-breaking winter season proved to be too much. To combat flooding, water released at the dam was completely turned off for the first time in its history. It wasn’t enough. Like previous floods, ice jams south of Bismarck were the primary culprit. Specialists were brought in to detonate the large chunks of ice, some of which were larger than a car, in order to continue the river’s flow.

In culmination, a rare spread of snow fell across western North Dakota on June 6th. Bismarck itself did not see any of the snow, but several inches were seen just to the west.

2008-2009 Fast Facts and Records:

  • Snowiest first half of season, breaking record set in 1993-1994.
  • 2nd snowiest season of all time, missing record by less than 1.4 inches.
  • Coldest temperature since January 18, 1950 and only 1 degree from tying Bismarck’s all-time lowest.
  • Rain fell a total of 3 times throughout the winter season, turning to ice while adding more precipitation.
  • Most snow received within a single month in December 2008, beating the previous record set in March 1975.
  • Tied with March 1950 as snowiest March of all time, as well as 5th place for snowiest Month of all time.
  • Several inches of snow fell on June 6, 2009 just to the west of Bismarck.
All-Time Season Records
(In Inches)
Rank Season Amount
1. 1996-1997 101.6
2. 2008-2009 100.2
3. 1993-1994 91.8
4. 1949-1950 86.8
5. 1978-1979 83.0
6. 1981-1982 80.3
7. 1995-1996 80.1
8. 1986-1987 67.9
9. 1994-1995 67.1
10. 1983-1984 66.5
Single-Month Records
(In Inches)
Rank Month Amount
1. December 2008 33.3
2. March 1975 31.1
3. November 1896 31.0
4. November 1993 29.9
5. March 1950 /
March 2009 (tied)
6. November 1986 28.5
7. March 1916 25.6
8. February 1979 25.2
9. November 1996 25.2
10. November 1985 24.2
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