We generally think of blizzards as a winter
event but the Armistice Day Blizzard came in 1940
in November during a very mild fall. It is credited
with having a lasting impact on the weather bureau
at the national level, and the wine industry and orchards,
at the state level.
The Armistice Day storm cut a 1,000-mile-wide path
through the middle of the country. As with other storms,
it was a warm pleasant day just before the storm arrived.
The morning of the storm, duck hunters were thrilled
to see thousands of ducks flying low in the sky and
landing in the marshes. After the storm, the theory
was the ducks knew what was coming. But the hunters
just thought they were having great luck--water areas
being covered by ducks.
One story from Iowa describes a school boy on a
bus watching the ducks and deciding to skip school.
His bus driver decided to go with him. The two of
them eventually ended their day by rescuing farm
animals and other hunters.
Hunters were caught unaware when the temperature
went from 60 degrees to 10 degrees and 50-80 mile
an hour winds began. Minnesota lost 149 hunters;
the largest loss in their history and the largest
of any state in the storm.
In 1940, Chicago was the weather bureau with regular
business hours. The weather had been so mild that
forecasters took time off that week. In 1940, people
had radios and telephones but with no forecast of
the storm, no one was aware it was coming and it
became the deadliest storm in the 20th century.
The aftermath was the weather bureau went to 24/7
forecasting and opened weather stations throughout
the country. The storm is credited with bringing
us our modern weather forecasting system.
Folks in Fremont County who lived through its fury
remember it killed grape arbors and fruit trees.
In fact, when you research the wine industry in
Iowa, the Armistice Day Blizzard is always mentioned.
The industry was coming back from prohibition in
1940 when this fall storm killed it out again. The
roots of the grapes were too shallow to survive
the freeze because they had not gone into winter
dormancy. It was not until the late 1980's that
the industry started again with hardier grapes to
withstand our cold winters.
The other plant casualties were the orchards. In
the state of Iowa very few orchards survived--mostly
apple orchards because that was the main fruit grown
here. Before 1940 there were orchards on both sides
of 275 just north of Hamburg. The Mincer orchard
was one of them. The storm killed 95% of the trees
in these orchards. The trees initially survived
but in 1941 they had only stunted leaves and by
1942 were dead.
Marty Mincer has many stories to share about his
family and its long history in the orchard business.
It is a success story because of all the orchards;
theirs is one of the few remaining.
The Armistice Day blizzard has gone down in history
as one that forever changed the direction of many
businesses. Additionally, the aftermath ended deadly
blizzards surprising an unsuspecting population
because of no forecast.