Remembering the blizzard of ‘66: Local station weathered the storm, continued to broadcast

It has been 50 years since one of the worst blizzards in North Dakota’s history. The storm started on March 2 and lasted three days and spanned across the entire state, taking the lives of five people it its pathway.

There were no photos published in the March 1966 edition of the Adams County Record. This photo of children playing on a snowdrift outside of New England School was published by the Slope County Messenger.
There were no photos published in the March 1966 edition of the Adams County Record. This photo of children playing on a snowdrift outside of New England School was published by the Slope County Messenger.

By COLE BENZ | Record Editor |

Historical records show that winds were measured at 70 mph with spots recording 100 mph gusts. As the stormed traveled east, the snowfall increased. According to a map published by the National Weather Service, snowfall in southwest North Dakota was anywhere between eight and 20 inches, a vast difference from the northeast part of the state where levels as high as 36 inches were recorded.

Though the snowfall was not has high in this part of the state, it didn’t prevent high snow drifts from accumulating. Drifts as high as 40 feet could be seen across the state.

According to records, all transportation had stopped by the second day of the 3-day storm. The National Weather Service said that three trains were forced to stop and drifts developed around the rail cars. Visibility was non-existent, causing travel by automobile to cease early and wouldn’t be resumed for nearly two days.

According to the North Dakota Historical Society, the economic impact was great after tens of thousands of livestock was lost. Records show that 74,500 head of cattle, 54,000 sheep, 2,400 hogs, along with other livestock died in the heavy storm. The value of the lost livestock was estimated at $12,000,000 at the time.

Schools and businesses were closed across all of North Dakota, some of the first recorded instances of closures in the state’s history.

Nearly all activities requiring some form of transportation stopped, including airlines, bus lines, mail routes and newspaper publishings.

Though some people around the state lost power and phone service, according to the March 9, 1966 edition of the Adams County Record those services in Hettinger were maintained with the exception of some flickering.

Weathering the storm was KNDC Radio, who continued to broadcast and became the mode of communication between many families during the three-day blizzard.

Allen McIntyre, KNDC Radio co-owner at the time, said that families would call the station to say they made it safe. McIntyre and his staff would then relay that message over the airwaves for listeners.

“There were a lot of people who couldn’t communicate with farm families out in the country,” McIntyre said. “So they would call us, to say [the family] is safe.”

McIntyre recalls walking home after his father, and co-owner of the station at the time, came to receive him. He was walking and before he knew it he was at Highway 12. The only thing visible that allowed him to get his bearings was a light pole. He used that to navigate the rest of his route.

Here is what that edition of the paper had to say 50 years ago under the headline ‘Bad Blizzard Sweeps Through The Dakotas:

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of last week the Dakotas, along with several other states in the north central part of the nation, had one of the worst blizzards in the history of the area.

The blizzard started Wednesday night with a heavy snowfall and high winds in the Dakotas kept up until Friday night in the western Dakotas and until lat on Saturday in the eastern Dakotas.

Travel was almost completely halted during these three days, even in the cities of the two states. Huge snow drifts covered the streets and roads throughout the states and visibility was almost zero. Airlines, bus lines, postal services, and other systems depending upon transportation ceased functioning the three days of the storm.

Even the railroads, which were able to function fairly well through the first two days of the storm, fell victim to the fury of the third day of the blizzard and many trains throughout the Dakotas were stalled at various points in huge snow drifts.

In Hettinger, as in most of the cities of the state, travel and business came to almost a complete halt. Many parked cars in the city were completely topped with snowdrifts and the streets of the city were covered with drifts reaching up to six to eight feet.

By Friday morning many of the business places in Hettinger had up to five feet of snow packed up against their doors.

The people of Hettinger rallied valiantly to count the effects of the storm. Along with the city employees, who worked long hours to open the streets many others made use of their tractors, trucks, and snow moving equipment to help clear the streets. By Saturday morning most of the city streets were in shape to permit travel and the main business street was entirely clear.

The blizzard was one of the worst in the history of the state. Fortunately, the temperature remained above zero throughout almost all of the three days of the storm and, as a consequence, the storm was more bothersome than dangerous.

Telephone service was maintained without interruption in Hettinger and, except for some flickering, constant electricity service was maintained. In some areas throughout the Dakotas people suffered cessation of both phone and electric service.

One thought on “Remembering the blizzard of ‘66: Local station weathered the storm, continued to broadcast

  1. My blizzard story. My dad, Al Beckman was in the hospital and my mother Florence was home with Dick, Nick and me, Betty Beckman. We were 15, 13, and 11 respectively. My mother became very ill and called my brother, Doug Beckman to please come and take her to the hospital. He dropped her off and made it back to the farm to care for us kids. She had put a roast beef in the oven before the power went out, so we had food to eat. Then the power went out the first evening. Fortunately we had a coal furnace to stay warm. It took Doug a day to clear the farmyard and road after the blizzard ended. We didn’t get power restored for almost a week. Doug took us to his house in town until my dad was released from the hospital. My mother had emergency gall bladder surgery so it was a good thing she got to the hospital when she did. It was a scary event,but we survived as a family.

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