Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

Armistice Day Reflections

On November 11, 1918 World War I ended.  Within hours news reached Van Buren County that the Armistice had been signed.
Rev. Lloyd Tennatt of Lebanon delivered a patriotic address.  Farmers hauled loads of wood to Douds and built a big bonfire at a farm east of town.  People of Keosauqua paraded up and down Main Street in celebration.
Each year since then, the Armistice has been commemorated particularly by Veterans of World War I and II, Vietnam and Korea who have marched with the flag and conducted solemn ceremonies in honor of the many soldiers who have given their lives for America.
Not all memories of Armistice Day have anything to do with ending war, however.  One of the worst blizzards ever to hit the Midwest happened on November 11, 1940.
In the late fall of 1940, people in Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota were enjoying Indian Summer with much of the nation.  The morning of November 11 was exceptionally warm.  At 7:30 am in Chicago, it was 55 degrees.  Davenport checked in with 54, and it was in the upper 50s at Keosauqua.  On the other side of the state, Sioux City's temperature was 12.
It was setting up for a perfect storm.  Meteorologists called it a "bomb".  The pressure in Des Moines that morning was 29.09 inches and at Charles City, it was 28.92 inches.  (Home barometers don't even register that low)
Since it was Armistice Day (Veterans Day) many people had the day off, and it was the beginning of duck season in Minnesota.  Duck hunters in Iowa and Minnesota were out in record numbers, and most of them dressed for a very warm day.
By early afternoon, temperatures moved upward into the 60s and 70s from Oklahoma to Wisconsin.  A few places climbed into the 80s.  But behind a line, grim things were happening.  The sky turned orange as the cold moved in. 
Winds picked up, temperatures dropped sharply, and rain fell in sheets, changed to sleet, and then snow began falling, quickly reaching blinding blizzard proportions.  An intense low pressure area drew moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico while also pulling down a cold arctic air mass from the north.  This was the perfect storm!
A raging blizzard lasted into the next day.  Snowfalls recorded were up to 27 inches, and with 50-80 mph winds, 20 foot snow drifts were common, with 50 degree temperature falls reported in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan!
The Minnesota Historical Society posts a photo on the Internet of cars buried in this blizzard of 1940.  The Twin Cities received 16.7 inches; Collegeville, 26.6 inches; and 20-foot drifts were reported near Wilmar.  In Minnesota, 49 people lost their lives.
A total of 154 people were killed by the Armistice Day blizzard!  On the Mississippi River 20 duck hunters were stranded by gusty winds and sought shelter on an island where they froze to death.  In Michigan, 66 sailors died on three freighters, and two small boats sank.  Thousands of cattle died all across Iowa.
An F4 tornado was spawned at Janesville in southern Wisconsin, and within an hour after it struck, a violent blizzard developed, as the temperature plunged to zero.
All told that day, tornadoes killed 12 people, including 9 at Janesville.  In Michigan 2 died in a tornado that swept through Owosso and Battle Creek, destroying 5 factories and 21 homes in Owosso alone.
The Armistice Day blizzard of 1940 was not the first violent weather activity on that particular day of the year.  In 1099, a violent storm on the North Sea brought death to 100,000 people in England and the Netherlands.
On November 11, 1911 (11-11-11) one of the worst cold waves on record hit the central part of the United States.
Early morning temperatures ranged from 68 at Kansas City, MO to 4 at North Platte, NE.
Kansas City hit 76 that day before the front came through.  Skies became overcast, winds howled and shifted to the northwest.  By afternoon it was snowing and the temperature at midnight was 11 degrees!
Oklahoma City recorded 83, followed by a low of 17 at midnight.  Chicago dropped from 74 to 14 in 20 hours.  Columbia, MO set a record high of 82 for the date, and set a record low of 13, both on the same day.
While thunderstorms and tornadoes ripped through the Mississippi Valley, dust storms were reported in Oklahoma and blizzard conditions formed in the Ohio Valley.
Weather reporting has vastly improved with great technology and the ability to warn people of approaching storms, but it is wise to take precautions.  You can still get stranded when the weather suddenly turns cold or develops into blizzard conditions. Be prepared.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick