Strange Truths: the Screetown Blizzard

The main street of Screetown, ND. The trees have their autumn colours. Several cars are seen but there are few pedestrians. Some of the visible shops are closed and a few others advertise closing-down sales.

John Olson: After that night, some folks just couldn’t go on. Some folks just left. You know, one day they’re here, and the next day their cars are gone or their stores are shut. You say to each other ‘honey, the Drapers have gone’ or ‘did you see the Johnsons left last night’, and it starts to become normal, you know, just part of what happened that day.

Martha Olson: I think it was hard on the people here… I can’t think of many who didn’t lose someone that night…

John: No…

Parents and children in Screetown’s Oak Park. The children are playing on the lawn in front of a small memorial obelisk of black marble. The camera zooms in on the fresh flowers lying next to it.

Martha: Our boys live out of state now, so we were lucky, but you hear of some folks losing whole families. We just pray to God, and try to be thankful every day... [starting to cry] He’s looking down on us here, and I hope he knows we’re thankful…

John: We always said we would be in Screetown until we die, but now… Now I don’t know if we can…

Fade into aerial view of Screetown shot from a moving plane. There is a dusting of snow on the hills and dark pine forests around the town.

Narrator: On the morning of November 16th 2014, residents of Screetown North Dakota began heading to work, unaware that what was brewing several miles outside of the town would make this anything other than an ordinary working day.

Inside an office. The employees are gathered around a window watching snow fall outside.

Narrator: By late morning, snow had started to fall in the town and temperatures had begun to drop. Then, at around two o’clock in the afternoon, the first warnings were received from local weather stations:

Inside a recording booth. A radio DJ reads a message printed on a sheet of A4 into the microphone.

DJ: The time is eight minutes past two and we’re just receiving word that a big blizzard is rapidly approaching Screetown. Heavy snowfall and sub-zero temperatures are expected, so residents are advised to remain indoors until the storm passes. That’s the word just in from the Smithson County Weather Service, folks; stay inside, and wait for more news here with us at SMR, Screetown’s first for music.

A compilation of footage of snow falling heavily in a nameless North American pine forest. Some of the shots feature animals; a group of deer pause and look at the camera, a marten is startled up a tree, a fawn songbird lands on snow-covered branch then flies away again.

Narrator: Several metres of snow was to fall in just the first few hours of the storm. Coupled with high winds, this snowfall caused transport and communication lines with the town to be completely severed. During the night, temperatures plummeted as far as -74 Fahrenheit; only in Alaska have lower temperatures been recorded in the United States. By the morning of the 17th of November, 1500 people were dead or missing.

Aerial footage of Screetown after the blizzard. In some places the snow almost reaches the second storey windows of the houses.

Narrator: What caused the storm to appear so suddenly? Were signs of the coming disaster missed by meteorologists? And did it have anything to do with the sinister legend of the Screetown Screamer and the disturbance of a prehistoric cave where some believe the creature resides? Join us as we uncover the Strange Truths surrounding the Screetown Blizzard.

OPENING CREDITS: A bizarre and discordant violin melody plays over synthetic bass and drums. Flying saucers appear above a cityscape before the scene is sucked into a folder marked ‘classified’. A POV shot of something emerging from the bushes to see a man filming on horseback, then a clip from the Patterson-Gimlin footage. A moth-man like creature lands on an empty and dark forest road. It opens brilliant-red eyes for a moment, then closes them as the screen simultaneously fades to black. The words “Strange Truths” coalesce on the screen in red block-capitals before disappearing.

An old man wearing fawn trousers and a blue flannel shirt, probably in his 90s, leaves his front door and walks to his mailbox to collect a newspaper. It is early autumn and his front lawn is still bright green, but scattered with brown and yellow leaves.

Narrator: Jim Loven and his family have lived in Screetown since the 1950s, when he took a job as a game warden with the town’s fish and wildlife department and moved in to a house on the outskirts of town.

A black and white photograph of a young family in front of a white house. The father is in a smart new uniform, light brown (though you can’t tell) and wearing a broad brimmed hat.

Jim: No, I ain’t never seen weather like that, ain’t never… I mean, we had storms. We say it’s a bad storm, I mean once in a generation bad, you know, when it comes with snow maybe halfway up the door. This storm the snow was right up to the roof there, right up there. I mean, it was really bad, you know.

Loven is stood in front of his door. He indicates the height of the snow on the door frame and by pointing to second storey of the house.

Jim: Closest we had was ’66, I think, maybe ’67. Snow nearly up to the top of the door.

Narrator: so what causes these freak snow storms? And why was this one isolated to Screetown and the surrounding area? Dr. Tina Newman at the Smithson County University thinks she may have the answer.

Dr. Newman walks across a generic campus in its fall colours. She is wearing professional clothing, with silver earrings that hang noticeably beneath her straight black hair. She is in her mid-forties.

Dr. Newman: Well, basically what we have around Screetown is quite a unique geography. Just north of the town we have the glacial Lake Connery, situated at the base of a system of several valleys which were carved out by the glacier in the last ice age. When the ice melted, the lake formed. What’s fairly unique about the lake, despite being quite sizable, is how narrow it is; as you can see, it’s much longer than it is wide.

A crudely rendered, computer generated 3D map of the geography. Glaciers grind out valleys and then melt away leaving only the mountains and Lake Connery.

Dr. Newman: Now normally the lake isn’t playing that much of a role in the weather in the local area. The winds we have here are usually coastal; they blow in west from the sea, bringing any precipitation with them. But what we see in Smithson County, and particularly in the area around Screetown, is generally relatively low amounts of precipitation through the year. This is because of something called down-sloping, basically where the air flowing up and over the peaks will be compressed, warm up and dry out as it moves down the eastern slopes. So we see generally low rates of precipitation, and relatively warm winters in Screetown most years.

The CGI shows cloud banks being halted behind mountains to the west of Screetown. Arrows indicate the wind patterns: they move eastwards over and down the mountains, changing color from blue to red as they do so to indicate the warming air.

Dr. Newman: However, although we get these coastal winds throughout the year, every winter we generally also get cold winds from the north. Normally these are fairly erratic, but if they are sustained, you get extremely cold air being funnelled at high speed down the valleys and over the entire length of Lake Connery; I mean some of this air is even coming from right up in the Arctic Circle. Now, this is absolutely key to what happened in the Screetown blizzard.

The CGI shows blue arrows moving swiftly out of the north and over the lake and Screetown.

Dr. Newman: We know that there have been these events before, these freak storms, but this was the first one where we could get satellite pictures of what was happening.

The pictures appear in shot to the left of Dr. Newman (as the viewer sees it). She gesticulates vaguely in the direction of the image.

Dr. Newman: Basically, we see the cold air coming down from the north for several days before the event. The cold air combines with the moist, relatively warm air above Lake Connery, sending it upwards where the moisture freezes to become snow. This snow is sent south on the wind, straight over Screetown.

The graphics fade.

Dr. Newman: Admittedly, at this point, we don’t know what caused such strong northerly winds at this time of year, but we’re going to be working with a research team in Canada to try and get a better understanding of these air-flows’ origins.

Narrator: So was something as simple as a random fluctuation in the weather responsible for the catastrophe that occurred that night? Not everyone in Screetown is convinced… Larry Munroe is the owner and operator of Creepy Smithson County, a website dedicated to cataloging supernatural occurrences in and around Screetown. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his explanation is a deal spookier…

Larry Munroe: If we go back and look at the Indian folklore around the county, the people who, you know, have actually lived here long enough to know something about it, we’re going to start to get a picture of when this has happened before and why it happened. Now I know some people like to make fun of our organization and the research we do, but there are plenty more who have been out in the woods and seen something or felt something, and think ‘hey, maybe there is something to what these guys are saying’. Anyway, if we go and look back at these folk stories, then we catch the culprit the red handed, so to speak. This blizzard was typical of the Screetown screamer.

Narrator: The Screetown screamer is a beast of Native American folklore. He was a creature of fear, who arrived with winter storms to terrorize the ancient inhabitants of Smithson County. Depictions of the Screamer vary, but it is consistently described feeding on people, and has historically been blamed for mass disappearances. The creature was so terrible that his native name will still not be spoken by the few who remember it today. In recent times, he has become mostly a subject of legend and popular culture...

The brightly colored cover of a pulp horror novel: "The Screaming Woods! Ancient evil awakens!"

Narrator: ...but many in Screetown believe the legend to be firmly rooted in truth. And not just Larry Munroe...

News footage from after the blizzard. In separate shots, a group of young teenagers, an elderly couple, and a mother holding a child are asked what is to blame for the disaster. Their answers are the same: "it was the Screamer". 

Narrator: Jim Loven is among those who claim to have encountered the creature...

Jim: Sure, I know it's real. I ain't seen it, but I know enough to know that it's there. Now, I'm what I would consider a rational man, by that I mean I'll believe something I see with my own eyes, you know, something I hear with my own ears... And I heard it. It was back when I was out with Rosie, mid sixties I guess, that's when I had her...

A young man in a game warden's uniform rides a small, chestnut horse. They work their way slowly through the snow on an open forest road.

Jim: We were out on patrol. There was fresh snowfall from the day before, came in pretty quick if I remember, nothing too severe, you know, but it comes in quick over the lake so it was pretty normal for me to be up in the hills, out looking for anyone who might've been caught out, you know. It gets to about midday, and I'm thinking, gee, it's quiet. I mean, it's usually pretty quiet after storms, but not silent. You normally get the birds and little critters telling you they're there, but this was a dead silence, almost physically in the air, you know. 

The man looks uneasy as he glances this way and that. A sudden snapping noise makes him jump and his horse falter and whinny. The noise came from in front of the man, from the darkness under the trees, off to the left hand side of the path. He stops and stares.

Jim: Suddenly we hear this crack off in the trees. And again. And it's getting closer. And now Rosie's getting spooked. And I mean this isn't a skittish horse, you know; she'd stood her ground against a pack of coyotes in her time. But now she's stomping and fidgeting and I'm struggling to get her going forward. And then we hear it. I don't know how to describe it. We hear this inhuman, shrill, horrific scream, right dead in front of us and [he claps his hands together] she just bolts back down the path. [Chuckling] I sure as hell needed a change of pants when I got back to the station.

Narrator: What exactly did confront Jim Lovell in the woods on that snowbound day? Was it an ordinary predator, and a case of mistaken identity? Could it have been the notorious Screetown Screamer? Or was it something less demonic, but no less bizarre?...

Liza Matthews is a Screetown resident, and member of the SRO, the Sasquatch Research Organisation. She believes many accounts of the Screamer, including Jim Lovell's, should be recorded as encounters with the legendary ape-man of North America: Bigfoot. 

Liza Matthews: The events in Mr. Loven's case, and indeed in many supposed encounters with the Screetown Screamer, are completely consistent with Sasquatch behaviour throughout the United States. Mr. Loven was confronted as an intruder to this individual's territory, intimidated by the snapping of branches and vocalisations, and, indeed, was pretty effectively driven off. 

Narrator: Such aggressive territorial behavior is known for many of the great apes. Believers also attribute it to bigfoot, and many accounts of the creature feature branches being thrown or snapped, as well as loud screams and shouts.

Mrs. Matthews: Yes, certainly we have Sasquatch in Smithson County. Absolutely. You just have to look at all the secluded hills and valleys that human trails never go to, and all the deer and other prey animals we have, and you'll see it's an absolute paradise for them here. I'd go as far to say we have the most Sasquatch activity outside of the Pacific North West. Indeed, three out of my five encounters have been in Smithson County, and two of those were only a couple of miles out of Screetown itself.

Narrator: Sasquatch sightings have indeed long been recorded in the town of Screetown. The SRO in Screetown even suggests that as many as one in ten residents has had an unexplained experience which could be attributed to the legendary beast. It certainly has its place among the many myths and legends that haunt the dark forests of Screetown.

However, some people remain unconvinced. They say that these encounters can be explained perfectly naturally, without invoking any extraordinary creatures.

A hunter carrying a rifle stalks silently through damp, fall woodland. He appears to be in his sixties, and has a thick, bristling gray mustache, but his hair is hidden by a forest green fleece hat.

James Schneider is a retired wildlife and conservation expert who has spent much of his life in the wilds of the northern states. He believes that witnesses have consistently been misled by a combination of ignorance, psychology, and the terrain around the town.

Mr. Schneider: The problem we have, and the problem we see growing consistently, is that fewer and fewer people are familiar with their wildlife. The mountains in Smithson County, and most of the state, in fact, are populated with quite a variety of different species. We have a lot of prey species, and with them with have the big predators, including mountain lion and bobcats. Now both of those species have rather loud, rather unsettling calls: *he plays a tape recording of the shrill scream of a mountain lion, then of a bobcat*. Even common things like foxes, when they call or act in an unusual way, can lead to these "encounters". 

When I go round whatever town in whatever state, even some pretty isolated, rural places, most people do not believe these are natural noises when I play them back. They tell me it's bigfoot most places, mixed with the chupacabra when I'm further south, mixed with the mothman when I'm in some places, and here we have the Screamer, of course. 

Now I will say the Screamer is one of the more pervasive myths: most people in Screetown attach some degree of truth to the creature. I'm sure that has part of its roots in the cultural tradition and history of the town, but it's also partly just the nature of the surrounding country. So, obviously, I've been through a lot of woods in my time, but I gotta admit there is something unnerving about those round here. The forest is very dense, and gets dense quickly as you leave town. There was never any large scale logging industry, so there are relatively few trails, and those that are here are narrow and winding. We also have the steep sides of the valleys hemming everything in. What we have is a very, very claustrophobic environment. And it puts you on edge. The first time I came here, I couldn't walk five feet without looking over my shoulder to check if I wasn't alone.

With regards to the Jim Loven story. Now, I've met Jim. He's a very knowledgeable guy, and I've never felt comfortable disagreeing on these things with a guy who's been out in the woods as long as he is, but I'm afraid I have to do it. I think Jim was caught out by the acoustics of the forest a little bit. Now, he says it was too quiet before he says he heard the thing. Now, I think the combination of the still air, the dense forest, and thick snow fall dampened all the sounds would have normally been hearing, so he was already jumpier than normal. Then he hears a mountain lion scream, and with all these weird acoustic phenomena, it sounds like nothing he's ever heard before. It's that simple. 

Narrator: With all of his experience, James Schneider makes a compelling case. Whether considered a cryptid or not, it certainly seems that many people do believe that the legend of the Screetown Screamer has it's roots firmly in the natural world. But there are those who still believe darker forces are at work.

Munroe: Mountain lion? No way. These guys, they love to come and say, poor guys in your little hick country town but still don't know your own wild animals. Sasquatch? Closer. Maybe. I mean, I believe in Sasquatch, and I get those guys, those guys at Sasquatch Research and places like that, wanting to treat it like a science and be treated as scientists. But they are missing the point as much as Schneider and those guys are: this is not a natural thing. It can't be measured in scientific terms. And time and time again they talk about their experience as woodsman, yet they ignore the most experienced woodsmen of all: the native people who have all the experience of millenia of their forefathers. 

If we go into it a little bit further, we have some recordings of the screamer, not many, but some. You play those alongside tracks of mountain lion, or bobcat, or whatever other creature you want to pin them to, and you see that they are nothing alike. Now I've sent copies of these for digital analysis at various places across the country, so normal wildlife should be pretty soon ruled out. 

What the recordings do bear some resemblance are Sasquatch vocalisations. The problem we have here, though, is that there is actually a negative correlation between sightings: whenever people are seeing Sasquatch, they are not seeing the Screetown Screamer, and vice versa. The Screamer is almost always seen in Winter, and the weeks and months when it is being spotted, there's barely a trace of Sasquatch - few sightings, no footprints, barely anything. That's something that the SRO can't even begin to account for.

Narrator: So how does Larry Munroe explain this intriguing coincidence? He believes that the answer lies in traditional folklore. Like the Screetown Screamer, creatures matching the description of Sasquatch have been an age-old part of Native American story-telling. Unlike the Screamer, stories of this creature are widespread and not always sinister.

Munroe: To the Native people, Sasquatch was always a brother, just another tribe in some ways. They were part of the same spiritual world. It makes complete sense that they would avoid the are when they know this evil, the Screetown Screamer, is haunting the woods.

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Created by Aquapig

Last Updated: 13/07/15
Originally Created: 16/04/15