Tournament Snowstorm Lore

1917 Tournament Snowstorm
1917 Tournament Snowstorm
Courtesy: Minneapolis Tribune


There's been a long-standing myth of the "Tournament Snowstorm." The myth goes that the Twin Cities will get a big snowstorm during tournament time. In particular, during the State High School Boys Basketball Tournament. This myth has been around for many years. 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.

On Saturday March 22, 1952 thousands of people had tickets for the State Boys Basketball Tournament at Williams Arena. The big storm hit the morning of the finals in 1952, with 13.7 inches falling that day. Public transportation was severely hampered and fans trudged through the snow. The Championship game was between Hopkins and St. Paul that evening and Hopkins won 42 to 29. This was the storm that really get the myth going, Another memorable storm was 11.4 inches on March 23, 1966.

How often does it snow 4 inches or more during the State High School Boys Basketball Tournament? The tournament began in 1913 and in those days was 3 days long. Later the tournament expanded to cover 4 days by the 1990s. Snow events were looked at for each day of the tournament. The number of times four inches or more fell during the tournament were noted over the past 110 years. Meteorologist Ron Trenda provided the initial research through 1987 and the State Climatology Office continued the check through the year 2023. (Special thanks to Climatology Volunteer Ivy Stempkovski) Note: in 2020 the Boys Basketball Tournament was cancelled due to COVID. Here are the results:

10 years out of 110 had 4 inches or more of snow over "tourney time" (travel day plus the days of the tournament) This means that 9% 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:

46 years out of 110 had at least one temperature of 50 or greater during "tourney time." This means that there is a 42% 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!

In the last 40 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 boys basketball tournament.

The tournament in 2024 is from March 20-23. Accumulating snow that fell during the 21st and 22nd does not appear to have reached a 4-inch accumulation in the Twin Cities, and would not count as a Tournament Snowstorm.

Last modified: March 22, 2024


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