"Time for Minnesota's annual Tournament Blizzard!" Or so goes the prevailing weather wisdom during March in Minnesota.
Indeed, there's been a long-standing notion of an inevitable "Tournament Snowstorm," in which it is presumed the Twin Cities will get a big snowstorm during tournament time-- in particular, during the State High School Boys Basketball Tournament.
This idea has been around for decades. In 1975, Bruce Watson noted in his book: WCCO Weather Almanac 1975 that "The State Basketball Tournament Storm" is no myth. We simply get a lot of storms around the equinox, the general time of the tournament." Indeed, in the 25 years before 1975 there were several large snowstorms that occurred around the basketball tournament. Some of the most memorable were: 13.7 inches on March 22, 1952 and 11.4 inches were on March 23, 1966. It was storms like these that perpetuated the myth.
How often does it snow 4 inches or more during the State High School Boy's Basketball Tournament? The tournament began in 1913 and in those days was 3 days long. Later the tournament expanded to cover 5 days by the 1990s. Snow events were looked at for each day of the tournament. The number of times 4 inches or more fell during the tournament were noted over the past 98 years. Meteorologist Ron Trenda provided the initial research through 1987 and the State Climatology Office continued the check through the year 2012. Here are the results:
10 years out of 100 had 4 inches or more of snow over "tourney time" (travel day plus the days of the tournament) This means that 10% of the tournaments had a "tournament snowstorm."
In addition, the chances of having a balmy day of at least 50 was looked at. Here are the results:
41 years out of 100 had at least one temperature of 50 or greater during "tourney time." This means that there is a 41% chance of seeing a 50 degree or warmer temperature during the tournament. We've been four times as likely to see 50 degrees rather than 4 inches or more of snow during the tournament!
The Legend Continues.
In the last 30 years or so, the legend has dropped the "basketball" part and is more commonly known as the "tournament snowstorm." This is because over the years, other tournaments have gained in popularity such as wrestling, girls basketball and boys and girls hockey. The tournament season now lasts over a month and has a much greater chance of seeing a heavy snow event. Thousands of people are affected if heavy snow falls and this makes the snowstorms stand out. In order to have a "real" tournament snowstorm (in the old historic sense) it will have to fall during the basketball tournament. The tournament in 2013 is from March 20-23.