East of Ely - Blizzards

by Dave Krikorian

On the other howling creature of the north woods - Blizzards.

On November 18, 2016, exactly one year ago today, the Ely area was struck by snowstorm that would have shut down most major cities to the south. Weather experts had given the storm an ominous name, Argos, issuing dire blizzard warnings for days before the snow arrived.
Aside from a few local power outages, people emerged the next day from warm homes to a beautiful blue sky. A few of them tethered their dogs to sleds and then set out to open trails. Some strapped on their skis, while others revved snow machines, packing lunch for a long ride through the bush.
Plowing and shoveling could wait. Thanks to Argos, a normally gray November day had become a holiday.
The word, blizzard was first used by European settlers to describe a sharp blow to the head. Davy Crockett used the word once in a journal: “I took a blizzard to a large buck and down he tumbled.”
Then the word vanished from use until 1873 when in Marshall, Minnesota a German immigrant named Knowles burst into a hotel lobby and exclaimed, “Blitzardt” to describe the storm that had destroyed the town church. A nearby reporter coined the word in an article about the Great Storm of 1873, the worst arctic windstorm in history.
But the most deadly blizzard to strike Minnesota came fifteen years later on January 12, 1888. The storm marked the culmination of a period known as the Little Ice Age, a result of the massive eruption of the south Pacific volcano, Krakatoa.
An estimated 300 to 500 people died in the 1888 storm. Many were children walking home from school, hence the name “The Children’s Blizzard.” Another cause for this high death toll stemmed from the large wave of immigrants arriving to the state that had no choice but to hastily construct towns and homes from cheap materials like tarpaper.
Dozens of accounts recall how so many perished within yards of their homes. Worse still were the stories of people loosing their minds while suffering from hypothermia. One group of schoolchildren was found embraced in a frozen circle.
The people of the border country live under the sweeping curve of the arctic Jetstream, where more blizzards occur on average than anywhere else in the lower 48 states. This reality has traditionally forced locals to deal with extremes of ice-cold winds and hours of raging snow. And almost everybody from the area has a wild blizzard tale.
My story happened when I was thirteen after finishing my paper route. Suddenly stuck in a blinding snowstorm, I tried to “feel” my way home tree-to-tree and house-to-house one step at a time. At one point something heavy brushed against me, knocking me into a drift. As I lifted my head a set of red taillights moved past and disappeared into the whiteout.
Perhaps by learning to live with harsh winter storms, people up here become much more capable of getting though a blizzard safe and warm. And with this comes a higher level of respect and appreciation.
A rare few even find beauty in these storms.
I prefer the grace of a wood stove when blizzards howl outside my door.