By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News
Posted 3/01/16 (Tue)
It was 50 years ago today that a blizzard began that would rage on for the better part of five days leaving nearly all of North Dakota paralyzed for weeks.
March 2, 1966 was the beginning of perhaps the most memorable storm in North Dakota’s history, and to this day, remains one of the most economically catastrophic weather events.
When we got past our Christmas edition here at The Kenmare News, I began making plans for articles in the new year and wrote down “Blizzard of ‘66” on my list to coincide with the first week in March.
When it came time to start probing to put this article together, I was completely caught off guard because after asking several people in Kenmare and Carpio, they don’t remember it, or only remember it from newspaper articles about it from elsewhere.
I still wasn’t satisfied with that so I started digging into weather records that we receive from the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge.
When I found March 1966, I read through all the statistics this newspaper has and the only connection I could make with the rest of the state from March 2-6 is that the temperatures were colder than average for early March.
There was no snow in Kenmare during those five days, the wind wasn’t any worse than it normally gets and existing snow depth was minimal.
It turns out, there is a sliver of northwestern North Dakota that didn’t experience the blizzard of 1966, including Kenmare, Bowbells, Mohall and Sherwood. It didn’t happen.
However, Berthold was on the very edge of this storm.
In the book “The Relentless Blizzard of March 1966,” it describes Berthold as having snow squalls March 2 and blizzard conditions existed because of winds approaching 50 miles per hour.
Two hours later, it stopped snowing, the visibility improved and people got back to their normal weekday duties.
Berthold received an inch of snow that day and Kenmare didn’t receive any.
However, the rest of the state was nailed and nailed hard.
In “The Relentless Blizzard of March 1966,” numerous pictures give us those visuals that sometimes can’t be described.
In one photograph, just the very top of a train locomotive is visible north of Linton. In another, a man is standing beside the top of a power pole on a drift approaching 20 feet near Jamestown. The cover picture of the book shows a portion of a car hood and about half the roof and that came from Langdon.
As for myself, I was 7 years old during that blizzard and turned 8, 10 days following the blizzard.
And growing up on a farm west of Hazelton, I still have very vivid memories of that storm.
A college psychology professor once told our class that our minds become programmed to remember traumatic events, even though they happened long in our past.
For me, the first was watching the President Kennedy funeral on TV with my grandmother at 4 years old and experiencing the blizzard of 1966 at 7 years old.
The biggest thing that sticks in my head is the cattle that froze to death during that storm. As I look back on research, I’ve learned that North Dakota lost 75,000 head of cattle in that storm. Following the blizzard, when people started milling around, there were dead cattle all over the place, frozen in place after becoming disoriented.
My parents had 10 dairy cows at the time and I remember my dad working so hard to keep those animals safe in the barn and having enough feed because back then nobody knew how long the blizzard would last.
Because of a northwest wind, snow swirled around the east side of our farm house, which was the front door. It didn’t take long for it to drift shut, but my dad was able to get to the barn and back through a back door, straight into the wind.
After the blizzard, my brother, sister and myself, crawled out of a second-story window with our sleds and sledded down the 10-foot drift created on the east side of the house.
I was hoping to find more people in The Kenmare News readership area who might have remembered that first week of March 1966, but was unable to locate anyone.
It was rough, it shut down the state capitol, hospitals went on lockdown, fuel became an issue, and when it was over, it took weeks to dig out and plough roads.
I also remember getting an entire week off from school because we were stranded, safe but stranded like most of North Dakota.