A snowstorm to remember

So we’ve had our girls’ basketball tournament blizzard again. And it lived up to the legend, especially since this storm snuck up on everyone. I just hope that it didn’t spoil the fun or dampen the enthusiasm of the fans who came from the little towns to Des Moines to cheer on their high school team, because there’s something really very special about that.

If you’re like me, you are more than a little weary of hearing “Well, of course we’re getting some snow! It’s tournament time, you know” or “Yep, this always happens during the state tournament” or some variation on that theme when the topic comes up in conversation.

So I decided to do a little checking on it. And it turns out that in the past 63 years that the state high school tournaments have been held in Des Moines during the first two weeks in March, there were only four snowstorms, each spanning two days, that brought snowfall greater than six inches. There has to be a 6″ snowfall for the National Weather Service to consider it a winter storm warning. So it turns out that’s only a six percent of the time that there’s been snowfall amounting to more than 6″ during the girls’ tournament.

That hardly constitutes “always.”

The same is true for the boys’ state basketball tournament . Around 95 percent of the time in Des Moines during the second week of March in Des Moines, it’s relatively quiet weather. In fact, there have been snowfalls of more than 6″ on just five, two-day periods.

As that statistic shows, that isn’t a given, either.

At the girls’ state tournament, the snowstorm on March 5-6, 1959, is the winner in terms of the most snowfall, with 8.6″ coming down during those two days. You may remember that was the famous storm that stranded fans, teams, and officials overnight at Veterans Auditorium. A DJ came in and spun records for what turned out to be an overnight sock hop that may be the biggest party ever held there.

I remember hearing about that, but I was too young to be there. My grandparents were at the auditorium for the big game, though, as chaperones for the local girls team who went to Des Moines to stay overnight and see the game. As my grandpa told me later, they somehow got in the very last cab that was leaving the auditorium for the hotel and were able to spend the night there as planned.

So even though it doesn’t happen very often, it turns out that this year’s state tournament surprise snow storm will in fact go down in the books. That’s partly because, contrary to urban legend, it’s an unusual event.