On Saturday, Jan. 11, 1975, Elton John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was topping the charts, on “All in the Family,” a tearful Edith said goodbye to her neighbor, Louise Jefferson as “The Jeffersons” moved on up to their own sitcom and “Scramblin Fran” Tarkenton was a day away from leading the Purple People Eaters to their third Super Bowl appearance.

Fran Tarkenton and the Minnesota Vikings took on the Pittsburgh Steelers on in Super Bowl IX on January 12, 1975. But some in Minnesota were unable to watch the game as power was knocked out from a blizzard. Wikimedia Commons
Fran Tarkenton and the Minnesota Vikings took on the Pittsburgh Steelers on in Super Bowl IX on January 12, 1975. But some in Minnesota were unable to watch the game as power was knocked out from a blizzard. Wikimedia Commons

While many Minnesotans could certainly listen to Elton John on their 8-track tape players and watch the Bunkers on their TV, many would be unable to watch their beloved Vikings in that weekend’s Super Bowl, thanks to one of the most severe and unusual weather events in the history of the Midwest.

“It was truly, in the last 100 years, one of the worst blizzard, snow events, and it’s often times called ‘The Storm of the Century,’” said Daryl Ritchison, the director of the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network at North Dakota State University and former meteorologist for WDAY-TV.

Ritchison has done a number of speaking engagements about the blizzard of ‘75 where he shows TV news clips featuring longtime anchor Marv Bossart.

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The storm originated in the Pacific Northwest around Jan. 8, 1975. By the next day, it had crossed the Rocky Mountains and was moving to the southern United States. Before it was done, the storm had produced a record-breaking 45 tornadoes, killing 12 people. By Jan. 10, it came barreling toward the Midwest and by Jan. 11 the worst of it was pummeling areas from Omaha, Neb., through Sioux Falls, S.D., southwest Minnesota, Alexandria, Brainerd and up to International Falls. Before it was over, 58 people in the Midwest died, and some regions received between one to two feet of snow.

The "Super Bowl Blizzard" was known as "The Great Storm of '75" in parts of the south which were hit with 45 tornadoes in early January. Photo: Ron Sherman
The "Super Bowl Blizzard" was known as "The Great Storm of '75" in parts of the south which were hit with 45 tornadoes in early January. Photo: Ron Sherman

Ritchison says Fargo-Moorhead only got about five inches of snow, and it never got terribly cold. But the wind was a big problem.

“In Fargo, at the airport we had zero visibility for 20 straight hours, and we had wind in gusts over 50 most of that time,” he said.

As people in the heaviest snow regions were left stranded and housebound, people in parts of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota had a different problem, one that makes this storm pretty unusual — snirt.

Snirt is snow mixed with dirt. North Dakota had a mild November and December with no snow on the ground, so when the blizzard hit, the high winds whipped up the topsoil, with the falling snow becoming an ugly gray on the ground — something we might be used to seeing on the roads at the end of winter, not falling freshly from the sky.

“Everything was just absolutely dirty,” said Ritichison. “You were blowing out brown from the snowblowers.”

The Forum noted that the snirt-covered landscape from the January 11, 1975 blizzard looked like the landscape of the moon.
The Forum noted that the snirt-covered landscape from the January 11, 1975 blizzard looked like the landscape of the moon.

The story in The Forum that day called it a “gee whiz” blizzard and compared the snow-covered ground to a lunar landscape.

“The snirt clung to windows and house siding, sifted through keyholes and under doors. It made tracings like melted chocolate on old ice cream and spoiled the usual after-blizzard ice palace effect that Valley residents discover on emerging,” wrote Forum staff writer Jim Baccus.

The "Super Bowl Blizzard" of January 11 hit the day before the Vikings appearance in Super Bowl IX. High winds knocked out TV antennas, like this one a top a home also covered in snirt, a snow-dirt mixture, also produced with the storm. Film courtesy: Daryl Ritchison and ND State Archives
The "Super Bowl Blizzard" of January 11 hit the day before the Vikings appearance in Super Bowl IX. High winds knocked out TV antennas, like this one a top a home also covered in snirt, a snow-dirt mixture, also produced with the storm. Film courtesy: Daryl Ritchison and ND State Archives

Baccus also noted that some residents, in typical Midwestern stoicism, felt like they deserved what they were getting.

“More than one Fargo-Moorhead resident intoned Sunday that ‘we had it comin’ to make up for that beautiful fall and mild December,” Baccus wrote.

After the Super Bowl Blizzard, residents of the Red River Valley weren't left with the typical beautiful snowy white surroundings. Instead, snow mixed with dirt meant ugly gray drifts all over town. Forum file photo
After the Super Bowl Blizzard, residents of the Red River Valley weren't left with the typical beautiful snowy white surroundings. Instead, snow mixed with dirt meant ugly gray drifts all over town. Forum file photo

Cleanup was a challenge throughout the region. Some dealt with the dusty, dirty snirt, others had to dig their cars out of massive snowbanks, and others lost power. And on this weekend, that meant no Super Bowl.

Ritchison, who was a kid at the time in southern Minnesota, was able to see the game, but some of his friends weren’t that lucky.

The "Super Bowl Blizzard" dumped more than two feet of snow in parts of Minnesota. The snow was mixed with a lot of dirt as North Dakota and Minnesota had no snow on the ground prior to the storm. High winds whipped up the top soil and mixed it with the falling snow to create snirt - leaving an ugly, gray storm aftermath. Photo from WDAY film archives courtesy: Daryl Ritchison and State Historical Society of North Dakota
The "Super Bowl Blizzard" dumped more than two feet of snow in parts of Minnesota. The snow was mixed with a lot of dirt as North Dakota and Minnesota had no snow on the ground prior to the storm. High winds whipped up the top soil and mixed it with the falling snow to create snirt - leaving an ugly, gray storm aftermath. Photo from WDAY film archives courtesy: Daryl Ritchison and State Historical Society of North Dakota

“When I went back to school, I was amazed by how many kids did not get to watch the Super Bowl and hearing stories of them surrounding their fireplace because they had no electricity, no heat during that storm. I remember as a kid thinking it was like Laura Ingalls Wilder,” he said.

But perhaps those who missed the game were the lucky ones. The Vikes would go on to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 16 to 6 — the third of their four Super Bowl losses. The storm would come to be known as the Super Bowl Blizzard by some in the hardest hit regions and “The Snirt Storm” by those of us left in the dust. Either way, for Vikings fans 45 years ago, it was a Super Bowl Sunday of insult added to injury.