The Armistice Day Blizzard: Worst Winter Storm in Wisconsin History

Anyone who lives in the northern Midwest has experienced his or her fair share of snowstorms. These snowstorms though, do not compare to the Armistice Day Blizzard, one of the most devastating natural disasters in Wisconsin’s history.

The name originates from the storm which occurred on Armistice Day, now known as Veterans Day, a day that celebrated the end of World War I and a new period of peace. However, this blizzard was anything but peaceful.

The Armistice Day Blizzard on November 11 and 12, 1940 caused a drastic drop in temperature that resulted in more than 150 deaths in Wisconsin. The blizzard formed when cold northern air combined with warm moisture from the Gulf Coast, which created a sudden drop in air pressure. The storm generated winds up to 80 MPH, creating 20-foot snowdrifts, laying down a foot of snow, and conditions similar to those of a hurricane.

These extreme conditions quickly advanced across Wisconsin catching those who lived in the state off guard. It was expected to be a warm day. There was a 40-degree drop in temperature from the morning into the late afternoon.

The 40-degree temperature drop from morning into late afternoon caught hundreds of people unprepared and without the proper clothing, having dressed for a warm fall day. Many suffered even in their own homes where the heating required manual labor to load coal into their furnaces. Due to the heat in the early morning, nobody was prepared to fuel their furnaces.

The blizzard also impacted people on boats and ships on Wisconsin’s many lakes. The storm took the lives of 60 men offshore and sank five boats on Lake Michigan. It caused trains to collide in the blinding white-out and disabled the use of many cars.

The day will forever be a memorable one in Wisconsin history.

[Sources: Wisconsin Historical Society ; Grant County Historical Museum; ]

Great reporting, Theodore. This was a clear, concise, and informative read. Thank you for covering this historic event. – Leilani , Madison College (2022-03-05 11:37)
This is very well written! Keep up the great work! – Virginia Quach , UW Madison (2022-03-05 11:52)
Excellent and important article Theodore!! I was 8 years old but don't remember it. THANKS!!! – Tom Bray , Milwaukee (2022-03-15 12:34)