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Myth-Busting: Blizzards, Bergs, and Other Urban Legends

March 2, 2011

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Have you heard the latest urban legends? A “Biblical blizzard” buried the hearty citizens of North Dakota in 25 feet of snow. And giant (and colorful) icebergs are mowing down ships on Lake Michigan. It’s almost a shame to challenge such awe-inspiring weather stories, but myth-bust we must.

The North Dakota story is the most fun: The brave citizens of Minot were hammered with 25 feet of snow and 50-mph winds in a "weather event of Biblical proportions." The devastation was awful and the snowdrifts downright impressive.

No agency, no organization, not one person came to rescue the Minotians, and the TV networks ignored them, too. This did not bother these noble North Dakotans nor distract from their task. They just grabbed their shovels and rescued themselves. Neighbors took care of each other. The drama of it all made you want to weep with pride.

Minot was buried all right, but not with snow. Kim Fundingsland reports that her employer, www.minotdailynews.com, has been deluged with concern and praise—in the form of e-mails. The news service even received a message from a Minot resident wondering if she had missed something.

Apparently, the County Emergency Manager’s office has been getting e-mails about the snow mayhem in Minot since 2009. However, according to the urban legend Web site www.snopes.com, this myth has been drifting around since 2005! Back then the Biblical Blizzard measured 25 inches, not feet. Even so, mythical Midwesterners were just as handy with their shovels!

The Lake Michigan legend paints another picture: A red-jacketed crew in an inflatable Zodiac sail the silvery waters of Lake Michigan—then, look out! They float before a giant striped (and seemingly stretched) iceberg big enough for a colony of penguins. I’ve gotten this e-mail 5 times and the picture is amazing!

As a climatologist, I study data from glacier ice cores. To me, this picture sure looks like an Arctic or Antarctic iceberg. They have those lovely blue stripes filled with information about past climates. Unfortunately, this one’s a fantasy, according to urban legend sites I’ve checked. They report this is a picture of an Antarctic iceberg that has been drifting on the Internet since 2008, before “sailing into the Great Lakes.” There is some disagreement as to who actually took the picture.

Urban legends such as these are fun and they help us to keep our perspective. No matter how annoying it may be to shovel the sidewalk for the umpteenth time this winter, at least we aren’t dodging icebergs or buried in a Biblical blizzard!

Have you heard any interesting weather myths lately? All tall—and short—tales are welcome!

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Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.


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