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2008-2009 Winter Season / Blizzard

By | Last Modified: May 5, 2017

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

The Winter Season of 2008-2009 was unquestionably one of the worst winter seasons ever recorded in Bismarck, upon breaking multiple records in both snow totals and temperatures. The Blizzards of 2008 were the largest winter storms since April 1997, but the total amounts of these first season storms would later be topped.

The first storm began with record-setting rainfall the evening of November 5 and into the early morning of November 6. Throughout the day, temperatures dropped, freezing the rain that had fallen. The snow arrived mid-afternoon, covering the icy roads, and continued to fall until the following day. Bismarck Public Schools called off classes for the first time since the April 1997 Blizzard. In the end, a total of 9.4 inches fell on Bismarck.

A second major storm, arriving December 13, produced even more snow, with a total of 12.5 inches. Thankfully, it was not on the heels of a major rainstorm, however the December Blizzard was met with record low temperatures. In the end, Bismarck would see snow on 25 of the 31 days in December 2008. In addition, the average temperature for the month was only 6.8 degrees – 8.4 degrees below average.

With 33.3 total inches, December 2008 broke two major snowfall records. By midmonth, the record for the most snow in the month of December had already been broken, beating the old record of 21.7 inches set in 1916. On December 30, the record for the most snow ever recorded in a single month was also broken, beating the old record of 31.1 inches set in March 1975.

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 ever recorded twice – January 13, 1916 and February 16, 1936. Remarkably, the high temperature the following day was 80 degrees warmer.

Less than a month after nearly hitting the all-time coldest temperature, 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.

By Mid-March, spring fever began to set in. Most of the record breaking snow had melted, but now was causing widespread flooding across the state. On March 23, rain fell again across the region, turning into the snow the following day. The storm was a near repeat of the season’s first major storm.

Another major storm arrived March 29, 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 first began to melt in March, widespread flooding was seen across the state. It was the worst flooding seen in Bismarck since April 1952. The Garrison Dam was built to alleviate flooding in the region, but the record-breaking winter season proved to be too much. Water released at the dam was completely turned off for the first time ever in its history, but it still wasn’t enough. Ice jams south of Bismarck were causing most of the flooding. Specialists were ultimately 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.

Just when everyone thought winter had ended, a rare spread of snow fell across western North Dakota on June 6. 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 of all time, breaking record set in 1993-1994.
  • Coldest temperature since January 18, 1950 and only 1 degree from tying all-time coldest temperature recorded in Bismarck.
  • Rain fell a total of 3 times throughout the winter season, adding more precipitation.
  • Most snow in a single month in December 2008, beating old set in March 1975.
  • 2nd snowiest season of all time, missing record by less than 1.4 inches.
  • 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)
29.7
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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