Dakota Windstorm, May 1889



ST. PAUL, May 8.---According to the stories told by Dakotians of the recent storm of wind in the Territory, some parts of the prairie have been swept as by the breath of a sirocco. Nothing like it has been seen for years, if, indeed, it ever was. Hot as a simoon, the wind blew over the dry prairie fields, and as it went tore up the fine earth and bore it along as the wind drives snow in the Winter.

The air filled until it clouded the face of the sky, which was sometimes hidden for and hour at a time by this eclipse of sand. It was almost impossible to live in the unprotected spots.

The excessive drought was the cause of the trouble. The fields were dry as a powder house from the long period of bright sunshine, and the soil, to a depth of four or five inches in some places, was torn up and whirled to the winds.

Several Dakota men who were in Minneapolis to-day said that the wind was not an unusual thing. It was in no sense a hurricane or a tornado. It was a straightway wind. But the feature of the storm which is regarded as phenomenal was that after three days of continuous blowing it brought no rain. Such a long-drawn-out windstorm had never failed to get clouds enough together to give a copious fall of rain which had put down the dust and saved the fields from the tearing up they have recently had.

C. W. Fink, a farmer from Woolsley, a few miles from Huron, told of the most wonderful phenomena in connection with windstorms in the Territory. The dirt had been blown furiously in his part of the Territory. In some places which were protected by buildings or fences drifts as high as his hip pockets had formed, he said, of fine sand, which was packed together precisely as snowdrifts are under a blizzard. It would have been almost impossible to have lived out of doors at some periods of the storm, he said.

"I would much rather have taken chances of being caught out in the big blizzard of two years ago," said Mr. Fink. While on his way to St. Paul over the Montana Road, Mr. Fink said a storm of fine dust, which seemed to be almost white. It looked much like a snowstorm, and the sun was hidden. It was impossible to distinguished objects at a distance of more than a few feet away. Mr. Fink said that the wind in Dakota near his home had been different this year from any he had ever known. There was so much electricity in the atmosphere that it was possible to get a spark from almost any metallic body. When the wind was raging most furiously the electric phenomena were most noticeable.

"The stoves in the houses were so charged with electricity that one could hardly endure the shock that came from contact with them," he said. "If you touched your finger to a chandelier a spark came from it with a cracking noise. A gentleman who lives near Huron told me that a barbed-wire fence on his farm became so charged with electricity that one day when the wire broke and one end of it struck the dry grass on the ground, the grass at once took fire.

"A representative of the Scientific American, studying the nature of the winds at Huron and the electrical phenomena which accompanied them, advanced the idea that the atmosphere was so charged with electricity that it only lacked two or three degrees of producing spontaneous combustion. All over the Territory there was enough electricity in the air to help along the fires that were burning there some weeks ago."

The New York Times, New York, NY 9 May 1889