The Blizzard of 1973



It may seem like bad weather today, but it could be worse. Lots worse. Forty years ago today Des Moines and Iowa were digging out of a massive snowstorm, remembered by many locals as the “Blizzard of ’73.” The snow started on Monday, April 9, and buried Des Moines in 12 inches of snow. Drifts of 15 feet were common across the metro area. Dubuque had a 19.2-inch snowfall. Streets in Des Moines and state highways were littered with hundreds of stranded cars,  there were several power outages in the area and, unfortunately, at least seven people died of heart attacks in Polk County.  In Indianola, babies were born in doctors’ offices because the roads to the hospitals were impassable. Schools, businesses, and even the Legislature were closed for at least a couple of days. A picture in the Des Moines Tribune that Monday showed golfers in short sleeves enjoying the 70-degree weather at Waveland on the previous Friday. The high on Monday, April 9, 1973? Twenty-nine degrees.

94 Responses

  1. I was in 7th grade that year and my dad could not get home from work where he worked in Shipping and Receiving at AMF Western Tool on Dixon Ave. That left mom home with us and the 5 neighborhood kids up the street who’s parents could not get home either. We had 8 kids with our patient mom staying in our home for 3 days. My dad, however was able to get a snowmobile from work and got to my aunt’s on E. 14 and Glenbrook Dr where he stayed until he could get home a few days later. The mother of the family of kids that stayed with us had a deep freeze full of food and instructed her kids to walk up the street and get some out for mom to be able to cook for us. I had a crush on the oldest boy who was my age and thought “hum-this could be OK after all” My mother knew better and put him in the basement.

  2. I was 13 years old I was delivering the Des Moines Register newspaper in West Des Moines Iowa me and my brother and about every tenth house they would invite us in for hot chocolate

  3. I was the Director of Data Processing at Mercy Hospital. I could not get there but I know from stories told at that time, that several doctors used snowmobiles to get to the hospital. You could walk down the middle of Fleur Drive by the golf course because there were no cars traveling when the sun came out the next day. Everything was white!

  4. My baby brother was born on St Pat’s that year and I got a new bike on 3/20 for my birthday…Great day of riding my bike for a couple weeks then the snow came. Tree came thru our picture window.

  5. Remember it well. We lived in Waukee. The wind was so so strong it blew my car sideway on the street one block from home. I went back home after finally getting turned around. Called my boss in Omaha, and he thought I was crazy. After the delivery trucks for the company I worked for (Safeway) got to Stuart could get no further and called Omaha, he called me back and belived me—it was a rough storm.

  6. I had a VW Super Beetle and a pair of jumpers and a spare charged battery. I went around giving jump-starts and taking people places. That bug just kept going. But it was COLD in that thing, the heat wasn’t for spit!

  7. I remember that blizzard, but I didn’t start digging out three days before it happened.

  8. I was also working at AMF and we slept on the stacks of cardboard in the warehouse. The dumbest thing was to even try to go to work that day from Earlham!

  9. I rember it also. I was on the last train that got out of town for the Rock Island going West. Was three days before we got back.

  10. I was 1 Month overdue and had him April 26 1973

  11. Yes I rember that day quite well. We had just moved to Newton. Ineeded to get to work and Bill went to get our sitter and got stuck on first Ave by the West End HyVee. He was stuck there for two days. He walked over to His parents. I was alone with a 16 month baby and no milk.well we had milk but it was outside in the milk box,

  12. I was 6 and I remember sledding down a drift that went over the top of the camper which was made out of a school bus.

  13. Lots of farmers lost lots of new calves during that storm- couldnt get to them.

  14. They used military tanks and snow mobiles to get people to the hospital. The next morning I walked down Hickman to dig out my car that had gotten stuck trying to get up the hill to MLK and there was a tank driving down the center of Hickman!

  15. My son was born on Sunday night April 8th 1973. Brought him home on the 10th.Took us 2 hours from Fairfield to Libertyville Iowa.Dr said I would never have a child.Well God knows!! Boy n 73 n Girl n 74. Best blessing I ever had

  16. My husband and I had begun to build a new house in Coon Rapids, Iowa. The walls for our basement were in place, it snowed heavily, and when it melted, neighbors teased us that we had built a swimming pool there for the neighborhood. We remember that snowfall

  17. My husband, Ted, was on the police force here in Newton and was to work the night shift. Our car was COMPLETLY covered with snow- it looked like a huge snowdrift in our driveway so Ted called in and said that if they wanted him to come to work, they would have to come after him because we were snowed in. It didn’t take long and they came riding in on a snowmobile to take him to work! The next day, we (Ted, Todd, Troy, Tami (3 years old) and I) built a huge snow cave in the yard. No one could believe how deep the snow was that year!

  18. Taking the sled to go get groceries because travel was impossible. Walking by Ankeny high school only to see the drift as high as the 2nd story windows.

  19. I remember that day clearly. My friends and I spent the afternoon shuttling workers from the Oliver Plant home on our snowmobiles. I can still feel going up and over an abandoned car in the street since you could not see a thing. The good thing about the storm is that we got out of school for a couple of days and it extended the snowmobile season.

  20. Nurses were snowed in at the hospitals. They took turns sleeping in empty beds. Many had to cover two shifts.

  21. Nurses were snowed in at the hospitals. They took turns sleeping in empty beds and working extra shifts.

  22. I was 10 years old. lived in Toddville. I remember my older brothers ran a rope from the house to the barn. We hung onto the rope to find the barn so we could care for the animals. The drifts were over our heads.

  23. I lived in Dubuque at the time. We missed school for three days because the plows couldn’t even plow a lot of the streets. The drifts were too high to plow.

  24. My dad said he could hardly breath outside in the blizzard. When it was over, I could walk out on the snow and sit on the top of our swing set. We walked to my grandparents farm through the field as all the snow filled in the road between ditches.

  25. I remember that day, I was home from work with strep throat, I lived with my grandma. The next morning we opened the front door, we couldn’t open it because the snow drift was so high it covered the whole door.
    But, the back door was fine, no drift at all.

  26. I was 9. Best snow fort South English ever had.

  27. I remember this day very well, my birthday is April 9th. I woke up that morning to hear strange voices in my living room. When I got up my parents were both home from work and there was a couple setting in our living room. They had gotten stuck on HWY 65 which ran through Collins. My parents took them in for a couple of days till they could get to their car and HWY 65 was cleared. My boyfriend had snowmobiles, he came picked me up and we rode around to check things out. I was just a mess cars were just stuck in middle of the streets, drifts were as high as roof tops….it was a birthday to remember for sure!

  28. I was 4 yrs old at the time. I don’t remember it but my parents told it was a big storm. Quite the snowy mess.

  29. I remember that storm, it was to my memory the worse one that I have ever live thru. Thanks for the picture Lori. Bev.

  30. I remember. April 10th was my mom’s birthday and we were having a party. My sister-in-law made it through the snow downtown DM to pick up the champagne cake from Barbara’s Bake Shop. Thanks Linda!

  31. The year I graduated! Had gone to my sisters in West Union for Easter and could not get back home. When we could get on the road it was slow going and the drifts on side of road were higher than the car!

  32. We lived in North Ankeny. The snow was sideways for 3 days. The front of our house had no snow (east), but we could walk to the top of the 2nd story roof in the back, the drifting was so high. I remember a great loss for the farmers of their livestock – from turkeys to chickens to pigs. My son was 3 years old then and I was telling him about it today. He asked me to find something about the blizzard online and I found this site. Nice to remember with others who were there too.

  33. It was 41 years ago.

  34. I was at a friend’s house on 57th St. in Des Moines and decided I was man enough (I was 15, after all!) to walk home to 67th St. during the worst part of the blizzard that evening. Along with the massive snow drifts, it was extremely cold and very windy. It was only a little more than a mile to home but it got to a point where I was a little scared. When I did get home I immediately took a very hot bath. My Mom was stuck at work for 2 days. One hell of a blizzard.

  35. I was a Jr in high school, Guthrie Center. We would go out and sit on top of our light pole with the feet on the snow. We dug tunnels through the drifts that we could walk upright in. We had snow in the yard until mid-June.

  36. We drove to work but 1/2 hour later the road was blocked we and a truck driver and other workers was stranded for three days at our boss”s house !!Farmers finally got through the big drift on highway 30 opened so they could feed the livestock !! When we went home our road wasn’t open yet /there was drifts as high as the houses ! We walked on top of the snow caving in as far as our legs could go and wondered if we were stuck for good !! We had a mile of that type of walking to get to our house !! a sow storm you don’t forget !! Lots of Memories / especially for our kids !! Neomia Hutchins Belleplaine Iowa was where we was snow bound / just1/4 mile from highway #30

  37. Got stared near Elkhart. Rode into town with the oil delivery man who had called for help. It took a road grader to get to us. So fortunate that he rescued me.

  38. I was home from Vietnam and taking some leave before I was to report to Ft Huachuca, Arizona. I was going to leave from Newton the morning after the storm hit. Needless to say I was late getting to Arizona. My Brother, a mutual friend and I were holed up in my Dads basement in Newton. No way were we going out into that mess! Well, we did a few hours into it. We ran out of beer and cigarettes. We hiked up to a Super America that was still open. Bought up some supplies and hiked back home. It was a couple of more days before I could get out of town.

  39. I remember so well. We were living in the country south of winterset. we had a U-Haul and were set to move to California the next day. We had a fourth mile drive and even if we could get to the road we couldn’t get to the road. We had 5 children about out of food and fuel to warm us.I think it was a couple of days before the road grader made it to us so we could leave. Still had a lot of drifts but were able to get on the road to sunny California. We were not sorry to leave that storm

  40. I was 10 years old and lived on Maple St in Des Moines off of E. 14th. No cars running on the streets. Only snowmobiles. Will never forget it:)

  41. I was 10 years old at that time I lived in Carroll and the snow had frozen so hard that our cattle just walked on top of the snow and got out for weeks my father was all over carrol county trying to round them up

  42. I was 13 at the time,. The storm actually started on the afternoon of the 8th.My parents 20th anniversary was on the Saturday the 7th, we had 1/2 the oats seeded. On the 8th some of Mom’s family came to celebrate their anniversary, some just about got stranded at our house because it had started already

  43. I was with my parents traveling from Mason City area to Des
    Moines. We got stranded on the “old hwy” (?hwy 65) and walked to a farm house. We were the 1st to arrive. By the next day there were more than 20 people that had shown up at the same house. The farmer had a freezer full of chicken to feed everyone. I think we were there a couple days…. I was 9 so my memory isn’t too clear. I wonder if anyone else online was there too?

  44. I remember being out of school for 3 days. We had a swing set in the backyard in Evansdale, and it started out as walking a block to Sunday school in the rain and was snowing by the time church was over on Easter Sunday. That swing set in the backyard was not even visible at end of storm, and our small dog was able to walk right out of the backyard over the fence, as the top of it was also below the top of the snow level. All us kids in the neighborhood went from house to house helping everybody dig out.

  45. I ended up walking the 23b miles to Carlisle that day, was on the exit ramp on 235 and Euclid when car ahead got stuck. Walked from the gas station that was there over to KMart, then to an X sis in law , to a bar buy the fairgrounds then Carlisle. was a cold walk

  46. I am 43. I was born Jan 1973 so that would mean the storm happened 42 almost 43 years ago I was born in Everett Washington 1/21/1973 right after I was born we moved to Iowa my mom and brother told me about this storm it looks just as bad as some of the story’s I have heard and read

  47. I remember my older brother and I made super snow fort tunnels and all. It was a masterpiece!

  48. Visiting cousins that lived in Olds that weekend. Played basketball across the street from my cousins house in shorts and no shirt the day before. Woke up the next morning and was advised that we were going to get on the road early because of the weather that was coming. By the time we got to Iowa City there was 3 inches on the ground. Don’t know how but our timing was perfect because we got in behind a semi tractor just north of Iowa City and stayed as close as we safely could heading north. Just so happens that truck made a path the entire way back to West Union for us. Never would have made it otherwise.

  49. Both our front and side doors were drifted shut – we could not even get out of the house – the neighbors had to come over and shovel us out – this was in Des Moines.

  50. It kept me from getting my driver’s license for a few weeks

  51. I didn’t live here then but when I came back to des moines a few years later I heard many stories. People where I worked told of spending the night sleeping on drafting tables. They ate everything in the vending machines. No one had any idea there were so many mice living in the building.

  52. I was 13 and a paper boy in Grinnell. The snow storm was truly amazing! I’d grown up in northern Iowa (Swea City to be exact) and had seen LOTS of storms as a younger boy. But this one was at or near the tops of my life before or since. I delivered the Register and had around 75 papers on my route which was spread out pretty much covering everything north of HWY 6 and west of Bailey Park Elementary. We didn’t get papers for at least 2 and I think maybe 3 days from Des Moines. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as we wouldn’t have been able to deliver them. When they finally got there though, all of the sudden we had either 3 or 4 days worth of papers to deliver to every house on the route. THAT was challenging. But somehow I managed. The snow melted quite quickly after the storm as I recall. Fortunately! We had track meets within a few days I think.

  53. Ooops. I meant EAST of Bailey Park.

  54. I remember that day and week clear .. Drove home from a tile job in Dubuque and barely made it to my brother’s house in West Des Moines ,could not continue back to Perry when there was 8 inc. and more coming. Wet and wild… And everybody was in the diches.. Almost scary…white bright strange day.

  55. I remember that day and week clear .. Drove home from a tile job in Dubuque and barely made it to my brother’s house in West Des Moines ,could not continue back to Perry when there was 8 inc. and more coming. Wet and wild… And everybody was in the diches.. Almost scary…morning, white bright strange day.

  56. The snow actually started on Sunday the 8th. It was our first wedding anniversary and another couple walked with us to dinner at Holiday Inn Top of the Tower. We 2 ladies wore no coats and open toed shoes. It started snowing while we were at lunch and we had to walk home in it.

  57. I lived in Earlham at that time, I remember it well, my folks owned Skellys Truck Stop in Desoto, they had to stay there a few days because of all the stranded motorist off of I-80 staying there.

  58. I remember that day we had just moved into Monticello from the country and then the storm hit we had to use a sled to go down town to get food supplies thats when my day dropped his glasses and broke them.

  59. I lived at 3000 Grand back then. Age 16 and made 5 trips to Dahl’s grocery store on 35th street by foot for the elderly tenants in our building. I laugh now thinking of each time wading through thigh high snow, to be met by another tenant upon my return asking if I could get them something. I also remember the national guard using tanks to pull some cars that were buried in snowdrift in the Dahl’s parking lot. I stayed in Des Moines another 10 years, then God spoke to me and told me…”Jack, it’s not mandatory to live in Iowa”. LOL

  60. I had moved to California in the last week of March that year. I was sitting by the pool with swimming trunks and a cold beer. Feeling sorry for all my family and friends back in Iowa. Eventually called them with my condolences. LOL!

  61. I wasn’t born yet, but my grandfather farmed near Tracy. My father, grandfather and a family friend used the 4wd Oliver to open the roads to Tracy and part of Highway 92 looking for stranded motorists. They took turns running the tractor in pairs. We have pictures on old slides yet of the drifts.

  62. My Dad Richard Carr had to get to Madison Wis. for dialysis. There was nothing getting out of Cascade. So when the storm was over, the Red Cross came in with a helicopter and took him to Madison. Big news in Dubuque co.

  63. My family lived just a couple miles from the edge of Clarion. We lost power but my dad did something to keep us warm and to heat food. I don’t know what. When we were finally plowed out, the gravel road was one way and the snow was piled or blown higher than cars. It looked like we were traveling through a tunnel.

  64. Returning from upper Michigan with calves in the truck. Sunny day but after truck stop @ Walcott, cars in ditches by the score! Made it home to Vinton and for the next 3 days, Hwy.218 was closed.

  65. I was in germany at the time. we were in shorts then it started raining & getting colder. woke up to 6 ” on ground, snowed all day& we ended up with 18″.. moms letter said the same thing as mine

  66. Loved it.Was a senior in high school at Hoover High School in Des Moines,no school!!!! Couldn’t keep my friend Leslie and I not from going out and driving around in it! Well we ended up in in a snow drift and payed some some young kids to dig us out.

  67. My husband and I had a dairy farm at that time. The 1st day he didn’t try to get to the barn because of the heavy snow and wind. Our road didn’t get plowed out for 3 days and we had to dump milk down the drain every time we milked. That wasn’t a happy time. I had tulips blooming and where the snow was thinner the blossoms stuck up through the snow. We had drifts up over the top of our machine shed. We were really glad to see a bulldozer come in from Attica to the east of us.

  68. i remember that storm and I’ll never forget it. Especially when we live in the country.

  69. We were snowed in at Ottumwa Heights Junior College, so it was an interesting week!

  70. I was living in Cedar Rapids, I was in 10th grade. Dad had a 160 Honda motorcycle that he had ridden to work the night before (he worked graveyard shift). He had to drive home through the drift on that motor cycle. About 4 blocks from us was K Mart – the parking lot was full of Semi trucks. WE lived in a trailer and drifts were as tall as the trailer. US kids had a lot of fun sledding and such.

  71. Couldn’t get my car into the apartment parking lot in Clive so had to park on the street during the storm. Went out after to dig it out but wouldn’t start. Opened the hood and was packed with snow. Had to dig out the engine to get it going.

  72. I was -16!

  73. I remember being happy that there was no school for a week.

  74. Hey! I was there! That was the worst snow storm I’ve EVER seen… and it came in April!

  75. I remember this well! We hadsnowdrifts up to our downspouts! They covered the windows!

  76. My dad worked for the register as a mailer. He walked to work from 32nd and Clark and slept at the register for 2 nights on mail bags while working 3 every waking hour for 3 days. To me he was heroic and the register got out.

  77. The only way we could get out of the house was with the overhead garage door… all entry doors were drifted shut. We had a drift that reached the peak of the roof! This was in Pella.

  78. I was a freshman in high school over in the Quad Cities and I don’t recall this storm…maybe eastern Iowa was not affected? But I DO remember the massive snows of January 1979 over that way…

  79. The same storm crossed Iowa and moved into Minnesota. I was driving home to Mankato from the airport in the cities when a kid in a brand new car slid on the ice on a bridge on the interstate smashed into me and spun me around. I didn’t get home until the next day and I was 6 weeks pregnant The baby was born in December!!!

  80. This snow was packed so hard and deep that our cattle were walking over the fences and getting out. We had to fence them in the barn.

  81. We ran out of beer at Iowa State 😊

  82. I was an RN working at Mercy Hospital in the ICU on Central 3. A snowmobile came to pick me up from home and take me to work and I was there for over 24 hours!

  83. I was 10 at the time so a good time for me, my dad tried to go to work which was south of the fairgrounds he made it to e 29th and University then thought he better go back home he made it back to Kmart across from Richman Gordmans then got stuck and buried we lived behind Richman gordmans. Him and I spent half the day, the next day digging his car out

  84. I worked at Iowa Methodist Hospital and was snowed in two days and nights. Powell 3 was new, not open for patients yet, not furnished but they brought us mattresses to sleep on. So I spent two nights on the alcohol treatment floor and not even a drinker, made for a good story.

  85. I was a sophomore at Ames High, it was the ONLY day they called school off the entire time I was in the Ames school system. Now they dream a snowflake and call school off :/

  86. I was 7 yrs old and had ordered baby chickens they had made it to the post office so the post master called dad and asked if he could come get them. Dad said are you kidding I cant get out of my drive way it was 3 days before we was able to get anywhere huge drifts. We followed the road grader up the road and it was almost like driving in a tunnel walls of snow. Amazing its been so long and we haven’t seen another storm like it so far.

  87. I remember this so well!

  88. My dad was a State Aviation Officer in the Iowa Army National Guard and we were snowed in and he couldn’t drive to work so they sent a helicopter for him and it landed at Southeast Elementary School. Luckily we lived 2 1/2 blocks away.

  89. I remember that day well !We milked cows and we were trying to get from one farm to the next.We buried a 4020 JD in the middle of a gravlle road.

  90. My daughter was born on March 8. She was one month old. We ran out of formula. All we could do was feed her milk. My husband could get out by snowmobile and get us more milk about day 3. I never did switch her back to formula. How did she survive and grow up to be so smart!

  91. I was 7. The official total was listed at 14″ but seemed a good bit more as I remember that it came up to my chest, at least in our neighborhood. Took my dad, my three teenage brothers, and what little I could contribute about 5 hours to shovel out the driveway.

    For the next several days, we kids had the best snowforts and snowball wars…… EVER.

  92. I was there and it didn’t happen forty years ago “today”. It started on April 8, 1973, my sister Patti’s birthday. Randy, Debbie and Marie were stuck with me for three days on his property near North Buena Vista The snow was three feet deep without accounting for any drifting. WOW! What an adventure.

  93. I remember the tulip beds in Pella that were covered in snow and you could only see the blooms.

  94. In the Hedrick area, we had 14 inches of snow, it all started on sunday. Right after sunday school at our church in Ottumwa, snow had started to fall. By afternoon we had heavy snow, by evening, it was a blizzard and not able to see much past our back door. Raged on all night and most of Monday the 9th. We lost a baby calf, some 4-H cows in a far field. Several in the area lost cows, it was said was like the animals drowned in the heavy snow falling.

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