Found: Lost Halloween megastorm tapes from 1991

Tapes show WCCO-TV live broadcast updates during the height of the blizzard

Paul Huttner on WCCO-TV during the 1991 Halloween Mega Storm
Paul Huttner on WCCO-TV during the 1991 Halloween megastorm
WCCO-TV/TC Media Now

Did I ever tell you about that time…?

I recently found some tapes I had squirreled away in a box from the Halloween megastorm nearly 30 years ago. The tapes contain most of my live updates on WCCO-TV from the morning of Nov. 1, 1991, during the height of the Halloween megastorm.

Here’s one of the earlier updates around 6:30 a.m. that morning. I believe the time indicated on the radar image is an hour later than central time.

Unexpected solo anchor

I was assigned as the meteorologist on duty that morning. WCCO-TV did not have a morning news program at the time. So when we saw a big snow event shaping up on the forecast models the day before, WCCO-TV managers decided to have me come in early that morning to do a few live cut-ins until the rest of the news team arrived to build out the coverage.

As it turned out, I was the only meteorologist or news anchor who could make it into the station through the escalating blizzard that morning. As a result, I solo anchored the coverage for several hours on WCCO-TV during the height of the storm.

That morning I talked by phone on-air with WCCO-TV’s Alan Cox, Bill Carlson, Pat Kessler and Cindy Hillger. They reported on the intense winter storm conditions around the Twin Cities that morning.

Because the station had a skeleton crew, and these broadcasts were at an unscheduled time, I recall that no tape was recorded in the station that morning. So it’s quite possible these tapes recorded at my home are one of the only existing records of the live updates on WCCO-TV during the height of the historic Halloween megastorm.

Thanks to Tom Oszman from TC Media Now for digitizing these tapes. You can see more of these updated at TC Media Now.

Morning of Nov. 1, 1991

As many of you remember, the snowfall began on Halloween, and trick or treaters shuffled through several inches of heavy snow that evening. By the time I awoke around 3 a.m. on Nov. 1, there was already more than a foot of snow in my driveway in Minnetonka.

I had to back my Honda Accord hatchback down the driveway three times and use the same ruts to get onto the street. The snow was coming down hard. The roads were mostly unplowed. Once I got moving forward, I did not dare stop until I reached downtown Minneapolis. I remember the snow was so deep on the deserted Interstate 394, I was sending up snowy rooster tails as I plowed toward downtown.

“Turn this into the Weather Channel”

I think I arrived at the station around 6 a.m. About an hour after I started doing updates that morning, one of my news managers arrived at the station.

John Lansing is now the President and CEO of NPR. On that day he trudged into the studio at WCCO-TV in clunky Sorrell boots and a parka. He said “Paul, I want you to turn this into the Weather Channel. Go on the air and stay on the air as long as you can.” My response was one word.

“Cool.”

Soon there were over 16 inches of snow on the ground, and my updates got longer.

“We’re recommending no travel”

Here’s another update later in the morning of my interview with Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Al Smith. He gives a great description of the deteriorating road conditions and recommends no travel for the greater Twin Cities area. Check out the live shots of heavy snow piling up as busses and an ambulance try and navigate the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.

Cross-country skier on Nicollet Mall

How heavy was the snow that morning? WCCO-TV reporter Trish Van Pilsum was on the roof working the storm with me that morning. Check out this great video of a cross-country skier going right down the Nicollet Mall.

Biggest storm in history

It’s amazing to sit here 30 years later and see that this is still the biggest snowstorm in history for much of eastern Minnesota. An incredible 28.4 inches ultimately fell at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Halloween Mega Storm snowfall records
Halloween megastorm snowfall records
Twin Cities National Weather Service

Final totals hit 36.5 inches at the Duluth Airport and 45 inches in Superior, Wis.

Halloween Mega Storm snowfall totals
Halloween megastorm snowfall totals.
NOAA

Here’s more on the meteorology of the Halloween megastorm storm from NOAA and the Minnesota Climate Working Group.

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