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Hannah Vonasek: Blizzard Hannah meets Blizzard Elmo, and they both survive

Blizzard Hannah, the fiercest of the eight blizzards in the winter of 1996-97, was the namesake of Hannah Vonasek, who was not yet 2 at the time and the daughter of Herald Enterprise Editor Janelle Vonasek. Hannah's beloved toy, Tickle Me Elmo, also had a blizzard named after him in 1997. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

Hannah Vonasek doesn't remember the Flood of 1997, but she definitely remembers the Blizzard Hannah that preceded it. While growing up in the wake of the flood, no one let her forget it.

Just four months shy of 2 years old when the disaster struck her hometown of East Grand Forks, Hannah was too young and innocent to defend her name when the Herald decided to name the eighth and most punishing blizzard for her.

Hannah's mother, Janelle Vonasek, was a Herald copy editor at the time and part of the news team that chose the name. Hannah the Horrible seemed fitting enough, and no one can argue the storm didn't live up to its name. Blizzard Hannah and its hurricane-strength winds barreled through the region April 4-6, killing livestock and knocking out power to an estimated 300,000 people up and down the Red River Valley.

"All my life I kept hearing how horrible this Blizzard Hannah was ... major guilt trip," Hannah said with a laugh. "Like somehow the flood was all my fault. I guess I'll never live it down."

Hannah also was connected to another infamous blizzard that year: No. 5, Blizzard Elmo, named for the furry, red Muppet with the lovable laugh. In short supply and all the rage, "Tickle Me Elmo" dolls were flying off toy shelves faster than they could be stocked that winter.

Hannah and her own beloved "Melmo" were inseparable, and that was a big problem when Elmo was missing and floodwaters filled the lower level of your house.

After her father and grandfather had braved the flooded streets in two unsuccessful rescue attempts, father Jim was certain Elmo "had assumed room temperature and was floating eyeballs up in the basement."

On the third search, Elmo was found safe, dry and resting comfortably under a bed. Though the Grand Cities were in ruins, all was right in Blizzard Hannah's world. She had her "Melmo" back.

— Janelle Vonasek

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