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Blizzard of April 1997

By | Last Modified: December 31, 2019

The Blizzard of April 1997 was a major winter storm that paralyzed the region for days. It was the single-largest winter storm since the 1966 Blizzard and not again surpassed until 2013. The storm pushed Bismarck-Mandan’s seasonal snow total to a new record that still stands as of 2019, and was also a major contributing factor to the Grand Forks Red River Flood.

Ironically, the area experienced spring-like conditions of temperatures into the 60s only two days before the storm first struck. While weather forecasts leading up to the event predicted a strong storm, only 8-12 inches of snow were expected.

In fact, a forecaster with the National Weather Service stated on April 5 in the Bismarck Tribune that he wasn’t expecting any “historic significance” from the pending weather event. Vaness lessened the storm’s severity to previous March and April blizzards, specifically the March 1966 blizzard: “This isn’t even going to come close to matching that.”

Precipitation commenced Friday, April 4 in the form of freezing rain and sleet. The blizzard struck hardest on Saturday, April 5. At its peak, snow was falling on average 1.5-2 inches per hour, mixed with 50-60 MPH winds, according to an official report. The storm slowly came to an end in the region on Sunday, April 6, pushing to the east.

17 inches of snow fell on Bismarck, propelling the season’s overall total to a new record for the most snow received in a single season of 101.6 inches, well past the previous record of 91.8 inches. Snow drifts as high as 15 feet were common.

An estimated 75,000 households lost power, many of which waited at least 4-5 days to have power restored. An estimated $21.5 million worth of damage was sprung from roof collapses, mostly at farm structures. Unable to make deliveries, 200,000 pounds of milk was dumped. Local schools were closed Monday and Tuesday, days after the blizzard struck.

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