On Oct. 29, 1991, the Minnesota Twins celebrated their World Series win with parades through Minneapolis and St. Paul. School had been canceled for the event, which drew hundreds of thousands of fans. No one would have guessed what the billowing tickertape foreshadowed, as a moisture-laden air mass headed north from Texas, on a collision course with a Canadian-brewed cold front.
By midday on Halloween, snow began to fall. Meteorologists had predicted precipitation. Just not the extent. Candy-seeking kids were undeterred. They put their costumes on over their coats and went trick-or-treating — as extra-puffed princesses or pirates. When the snow got too deep for kids to trudge through, some parents hauled them door-to-door on sleds.
By midnight, more than 8 inches had fallen in the metro area, setting an October record. But it was only a hint of what the once-in-a-lifetime snowstorm had in store. A blizzard that remains, 30 years later, embedded in local lore.
Friday morning, Nov. 1, costume-clad college students emerged from wherever they'd been forced to spend the night, and spilled onto the University of Minnesota's snow-covered streets. A Duluth doctor cross-country skied to the hospital to deliver a baby, nicknamed "Stormy." Around the state, schools and businesses closed, en masse.
By the end of the day, the Twin Cities had received nearly 20 more inches.
Saturday morning, Nov. 2, the Star Tribune's front page depicted a giant snowball, presumably encasing a car, parked on a nearly empty street. The designers cutely buried the masthead in piles of the white, fluffy stuff.
The city was at a standstill. Front doors wouldn't budge, due to the drifts. Shovel handles snapped under the weight of the snow.
Outside the metro area, winds gusted to more than 60 miles per hour. Southern Minnesota was sheathed in ice, the interstate closed. Tens of thousands of households lost power. A herd of Holsteins used the deep, hard snow to scale their fence and wander into town.
The snow's hazards were abundant. More than 20 people died while shoveling snow or in car crashes. Several were injured by falling ice. Hundreds were rushed to the ER with horrible hand injuries after trying to unclog their snowblowers. (A Mendota Heights man who lost a piece of his thumb had it successfully reattached with the help of leeches.)
By Sunday, temperatures fell below zero. When the snowfall finally — finally — stopped, the Twin Cities had received 28.4 inches, the area's largest single-storm snowfall in more than 100 years. Duluth accumulated 36.9, the statewide record at the time.
Minneapolis and St. Paul spent $700,000 plowing streets. Overall economic loss from the storm was in the tens of millions.
In one of the state's most remote spots, Split Rock Lighthouse, on Lake Superior's North Shore, the keeper was snowed in for five days. The accumulated snow didn't melt until May.
The snow that binds us
Love it or hate it, the Halloween Blizzard was a humbling display of Mother Nature's power. We were caught with our snowpants down, as one local writer put it.
Meteorologist Paul Douglas declared that Minnesotans would probably never experience another snowstorm like that in our lifetimes: "Chances are that someday you'll be gathering the grandkids around to wax nostalgic about the 'Great Snowblitz of '91,' " he wrote.
And wax we do.
Except it's colloquially referred to as "The Halloween Blizzard" anytime we bring it up, which is basically anytime we can find an excuse. That'd be every Oct. 31, for sure. As well as anytime there's a decent snowfall. Or whenever we're munching a fun-size candy bar. (Then we go gas up the Toro, just in case.)
These truths we hold self-evident: life, liberty and Minnesotans' inability to stop talking about the Halloween Blizzard.
Newcomers to Minnesota — meaning those who didn't live here 30 years ago — get annoyed by those who relive the memories on endless repeat. For the love of Paul Bunyan, cut it with the snowstorm stories, they plead. They mute the hashtag on Twitter.
But here's the thing. The Halloween Blizzard gave us something more powerful than its howling winds, and something even rarer: an experience shared among all Minnesotans, that united every last one of us.
Sure, the Twins' World Series victories bonded many of us. As does attending the State Fair, polishing off a Jucy Lucy or blasting Prince's "Purple Rain." But weather impacts not just sports fans or foodies or music lovers — there's a reason it's the universal subject of small talk. The blanket of white that covered the state bound us to one another, and to this place.
University of Minnesota sociology professor Alejandro Baer brings up the Halloween Blizzard when he teaches the concept of "collective memory." Contrary to what we might think, memory isn't an individual attribute, he explained, considering that whether or not an event is remembered, what and how it is remembered, depends on the groups to which we belong.
"There is a direct link between remembering and belonging," he noted. (And as someone who didn't experience the blizzard, when his neighbors reminisce about it, Baer admitted feeling a sense of separation.)
Baer's colleague, U of M sociology professor Joachim Savelsberg, remembers his adventurous trip home from his university office during the Halloween Blizzard, involving strangers who helped him shovel out his car and walked with him, after their cars got stuck.
Sharing collective memories reinforces unity and strengthens ties within a group, Savelsberg said. In Minnesota, that's especially true if the event relates to dramatic weather and includes people helping each other.
"If it's a memory of an event that tied people together in solidarity, than this effect of creating community and solidifying identity is even stronger," he said.
In many ways, the Halloween Blizzard brought out the best in us. We didn't whine or bellyache. We just got our shovels and dug. We helped push stuck cars. We went sledding and made snow angels. We built unbelievable snow forts.
Then on Monday morning, we went back to school, or work, or our usual daily routines.
Those heaps of snow stuck around for weeks, to remind us of what we'd collectively gone through. And we continue to relive our blizzard memories, again and again, because their message remains ever-relevant: Respect weather's capacity to disrupt our lives and, when it does, band together to endure it.