Think this weather is bad? You should have seen the winter of 1996-97

James McBenge shields his face from sub-zero temperatures and bone-chilling winds during a morning walk in West Fargo Monday, Jan. 27, 1997, as mountains of snow are piled beside him. Forum News Service file photo
James McBenge shields his face from sub-zero temperatures and bone-chilling winds during a morning walk in West Fargo Monday, Jan. 27, 1997, as mountains of snow are piled beside him. Forum News Service file photoForum News Service file photo

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — Feeling miserable about this winter weather? This should cheer you up — it could be a lot worse, and in the winter of 1996-1997, it was worse with a vengeance.

Temperatures were way below average in November, December and January, and that winter saw one blizzard after another.

It was so bad that 40 Minnesota counties were declared a disaster area.

“Pure frustration is what’s going on out there,” read a headline from Jan. 9, 1997, Detroit Lakes Tribune. A foot of snow had just fallen with 35 mph wind gusts in the worst storm of the season. Highway 10 had been closed and stranded motorists filled up Detroit Lakes motels. Tow truck drivers had been operating on adrenaline for over a week of cold temperatures and snowy weather, and there were long wait times to get help.

A Detroit Lakes woman, who had been dropped off by a friend, froze to death outside her home and was found covered in snow.

And it wasn’t just Detroit Lakes, the whole region was hammered.

A mountain of snow between houses in 1997. Forum News Service file photo
A mountain of snow between houses in 1997. Forum News Service file photoForum News Service file photo
Blizzards struck western and west-central Minnesota Nov. 16-17, Dec. 17-19, Dec. 20-21, Dec. 23, Dec. 31, Jan. 15-16, Jan. 21-22, March 4, and even on April 5-6 during a huge flood fight to hold back the swelling Red River. Total seasonal snowfall in the Fargo-Moorhead area was 117 inches, which set up worst flooding ever, according to the DNR.

The record-breaking snowfall during the 1996-97 winter was followed by a 500-year flood during which Fargo eclipsed previous recorded Red River flooding high marks as it rose to 37.55 feet on April 17, 1997.

While Fargo-Moorhead narrowly skirted disaster, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were not so lucky, and suffered major flooding from the Red River.

Jerry Walker shovels a mountain of snow from the top of his Dilworth home so the roof won’t collapse under the weight. Forum News Service file photo
Jerry Walker shovels a mountain of snow from the top of his Dilworth home so the roof won’t collapse under the weight. Forum News Service file photoForum News Service file photo
“In the historical record, we have not seen a comparable sequence of such extreme precipitation events which have affected so much of the Red River basin in a single over-winter season,” DNR Director of Waters Kent Lokkesmoe said at the time.

The winter of 1996-1997 brought the greatest snowfall totals ever recorded over large areas of the Red River and upper Minnesota River basins, according to a DNR climate report. “Not only was the snowfall noteworthy in its intensity,” the report said, “but also in geographical extent. Six to eight blizzards, and numerous smaller snowstorms, dropped over six feet of snow over northwestern and west central Minnesota.”

Tough times, but it kinda puts this winter in perspective, doesn’t it?