Thursday, October 31st, 1991 1:00 PM. I was sitting in history class at the University of Wisconsin Superior next to my wife. We had just moved back to Duluth, Minnesota earlier that fall and had an Apartment on 6th Ave East, right in the heart of Duluth on the busiest road leading into downtown. Like everyone else in the state we were still reveling in the Twins winning the World Series, little did we know that the second major event of 1991 was just about to get underway. As my professor meandered on, my eyes wandered outside and I saw snowflakes falling onto the grass and sidewalk. “Look it’s snowing outside,” I said as I nudged my wife.
“The weather said this morning that we might get a little snow this afternoon,” one of my classmates said.
“I wonder if it will stick?” my wife replied. “I wanna go to the Mall after class. It’s probably sticking up there.” Duluth is notorious for having different climate zones, the downtown area usually got far less snow as the warmth of Lake Superior often suppressed snow totals, but in the higher elevations around the lake it was a different story, with almost 1,000 foot elevation change the air was colder and snow piled up early and if the wind was right you could get some really heavy lake effect snow. The weather man had predicted some snow that morning but they didn’t think it would be much, believing that it would probably start as rain in the beginning and maybe change over to snow but here we were with full blown light snow falling.
We got out of class and drove up to the Miller Hill Mall and as predicted the snow was heavier over the hill and sticking to the ground and the roads had already become slick slowing down traffic. I started to worry because I was supposed to be at work at Domino’s Pizza in West Duluth by 4:00. I knew it was going to be Ultra-busy because of Halloween and the snow was going to add to the craziness, if I was late my boss would throw a fit. Sure enough I showed up late and my boss was mad as predicted. The roads weren’t too bad though and by the end of my shift at 8:00 the weatherman had said we would get one to three inches of snow out of this little event.
I got off work after dinner rush and grabbed a pizza and went home to my apartment to hang out with my wife and my friend Allen who had come over with some beer to watch horror movies with us and it was still snowing hard. We watched a movie as the snow piled up and then the ten o’clock news came on. The lead of the news was that we were now under a winter storm warning, a low pressure system had gotten more organized and was heading north and this would now bring us four to six inches of snow, no big deal for us in Duluth so we didn’t give it a second thought. We watched another movie and a little after midnight we called it a night and Allen went outside to head home. We were shocked to see almost a foot of snow on my porch! “This is a Hell of a lot more than four to six inches,” Allen said. But he was driving his Jeep so he wasn’t worried about making it home.
The next morning we woke up to a world of white, traffic was at a crawl and the occasional roar of a snowmobile could be heard out on the street. This struck me as 6th Avenue East was a snow Emergency route because it was so close to the Hospitals and they usually kept it pretty clear. We turned on the radio and found that classes at UWS had been cancelled so we decided to just hunker down for the day thinking that at some point the snow would stop in time for me to go to work, but it didn’t. At 3:00 my boss called wondering if I was coming in. “Are you crazy?” I said to him. “The roads are horrible!”
“They aren’t that bad,” he replied, “Mike is coming in so all I need is a few more drivers.”
“You can count me out. You guys are nuts. They say it’s supposed to keep snowing until tomorrow with Blizzard conditions and we could get over two feet! If you guys go to work you are going to wind up spending the night at the store.”
“Nah, It’s not going to be that bad,” Dave said, “they always exaggerate these things.”
“Good Luck,” I said as I hung up the phone. I had watched the weather and it looked to me like this storm was going to hang out right over Lake Superior and keep churning away, there’s no way I was going to go into work.
The next morning the roads were completely closed. Snowmobiles were now the main form of transportation and the snowmobile traffic outside was now comparable to regular car traffic, to the point that snowmobiles were lining up at red lights waiting for snowmobiles with green lights to clear. I had never seen anything like it. I had been a snowmobiler all my life but of course going to college and living downtown I didn’t have the money, the time, or a place to keep a sled. Watching all of these snowmobiles go buzzing by my window was driving me crazy. Most of them were heading to the nearby grocery store and later that night their destination was the neighborhood bar. The entire lot was full of sleds. My phone rang and it was my boss asking if there was any way I could get to Domino’s.
“Are you insane?” I asked. “Only snowmobiles are out on the streets right now, there’s no way I can get to work.”
“I know, I’m not asking you to come to work, I’m just trying to find someone with a snowmobile to come get me and Mike. Mike was delivering until about ten last night and then he got his truck stuck. He had to walk back to the store. We tried to get him out but we couldn’t and the storm was so bad we had to stay in the store overnight and now there is a ten foot snowdrift in front of the door and we can’t get out.”
I laughed at him with the big “I told you so” laugh. “Dude, I’m sorry I can’t help you.” It wouldn’t be until the next day, November 3rd, that they would get out of that building.
At 1:00 on November third the snow finally ended, dumping a whopping 36.9 inches of snow on Duluth, which at the time was the largest single snowfall in Minnesota History (Finland broke that record in 1994 getting an incredible 46.5 inches from January 6-8). The city was paralyzed for almost a week with drifts in some places in excess of ten feet. A little remembered fact is that the Halloween snowstorm was just the beginning. Later storms in November jumped the snow total to 50.1 inches, at the time the snowiest month on record (That record was broken in April of 2013 when Duluth received a useless 50.8 inches of snow) and created the single longest snowmobile season as the roadways themselves were accessible by snowmobile for almost half the month.
Will we see another storm like that of 1991? After all, records are made to be broken…
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