From Snow Drought to Snow Blitz (record snows for much of Minnesota Sunday) Dec 10, 2012


Winning the Snow Lotto


Snow lovers are joyous, like a little kid with a new puppy at Christmas. Commuters? Not so much.

What happened? How did predicted snowfall amounts DOUBLE in the span of 12 hours Saturday?

Every storm is unique; there’s no such thing as an identical storm. Every scenario is different, unique. Early Saturday it appeared the axis of heaviest snow would set up from Alexandria to Brainerd and Duluth. But PM model runs kept shifting the smear of heaviest snow (“deformation zone”) farther south and east, running right over the metro area. There was enough upward motion (vertical velocity) for a sustained burst of moderate to heavy snow; temperatures just cold enough for all snow.

I’ve discovered (the hard way) that it pays to be skeptical about snow amounts. I’m always amazed the multitude of ways Mother Nature can cheat us out of snow.

Every storm is uniquely humbling.

Not this time – it was the most snow in nearly 2 years for much of the metro. And it’s not going anywhere soon. A numbing Monday (wind chill dipping to -15 F gives way to 32 F by midweek. I don’t see any significant melting between now and a very white Christmas. In fact a few more inches may fall next Saturday. Like turning on a switch. Instant winter!

* photo above from Diane Baum, who snapped this photo up in Zimmerman.

Impressive Amounts. Roseville, Inver Grove Heights, Chanhassen and Shorewood all reported a foot of snow as of Sunday evening – most metro locations in the 6-10″ range. Yes, our snow drought is over, a nearly 11.5″ snowfall deficit since late September erased with a single storm. To zoom into your county or town to get updated snowfall totals from the Twin Cities NWS office click here.


Current Travel Conditions. Before leaving the house (early?) this morning you may want to check out, MnDOT’s official web site, with information for the Twin Cities metro and greater Minnesota. Even though the accumulating snow is over, temperatures in single digits will make it nearly impossible to melt a pesky layer of ice. Chemicals don’t work nearly as efficiently when it’s colder than 15 F. Commute times may be double, or longer, a slightly better drive home this afternoon.

Winter Wonderland. How did expected snowfall amounts double in the span of 24 hours? Every storm is different, and this one was especially fickle, for a number of reasons. Usually a thick layer of cold air needs to be in place for a major snowfall. We didn’t have that with this storm, temperatures aloft fairly close to freezing this morning. But the upward motion, the vertical velocities associated with this storm are unusually intense. Not only does this create moderate to heavy snow, but strong upward motion cools the column of air overhead, preventing a changeover to ice or rain, which would keep final amounts down. Saturday morning is still looked like the axis of heaviest snow would set up from near Alexandria and Willmar to Little Falls, Brainerd and the North Shore of Lake Superior. By afternoon models were shifting that axis from southwest-northeast, to a more west-east configuration, stretching from Willmar to the Twin Cities to Baldwin, WI. Yes, every weather scenario is fluid – this one surprised me a little. I realize the snow is a hardship, a bummer for many people. All it takes is one good fall on ice to ruin your winter (or worse). I get it. But you live in Minnesota – where snow is part of the landscape (some winters). If you don’t like it, be patient – this too shall melt (although no time soon, certainly not before Christmas). No big thaws looking out 2 weeks. If you happen to like snow – congratulations. We all just won Minnesota’s Snow Lotto.

For once.

** thanks to my friend Heidi Rusch for the photo above, taken in front of her house in Minnetonka. Yes, it really is beautiful out there right now, with snow sticking (to everything – including my dog).


A Very Respectable Snowman. Thanks to Charles Strinz (and family) – who hand-assembled a fine snowman in Eagan Sunday afternoon.

Snowfall Totals. 17.3″ at Sacred Heart, unofficial winner of the coveted Golden Snow Shovel Award. Ham Lake picked up 15″, with 13″ at Anoka. MSP International had picked up just over 10″ as of 6 pm, most metro locations seeing anywhere from 7-12″ of snow. The latest observed snowfall amounts are here, courtesy of the National Weather Service.


Testing The De-Icing Equipment. Yes, there were some delays and cancellations yesterday. Any other airport in the USA would have pretty much shut down after 10-11″ of snow. Not MSP International. I was there – and frankly amazed with how smooth things were running at the height of the storm. Impressive. Photo: Deena Randolph.


Good Biking Weather. That’s Jason Gust (upper left) – not letting snow slow down a little fat-bike-riding. Thanks to WeatherNation TV meteorologist Todd Nelson for sending that one in. Steve Burns sent me the pic in the upper right – a snowy kick-stand? Nice.


Snowy Mix Saturday? It’s early – things will almost certainly change over the next 5 days as new data comes in, but the ECMWF forecast for Saturday evening shows the “540 line”, the approximate rain-snow line, very close to MSP. Another southern storm may leave us with snow mixing with sleet or even rain by late in the day Saturday. A light, slushy accumulation is possible Saturday – I doubt we’ll see anything to rival yesterday’s snowy dumping. 00z Sunday outlook above courtesy of WSI.


Fairly Safe Bet: A White Christmas. Although highs may brush 32 F. by midweek I don’t see any extended thaws over the next 2 weeks. Most of the snow in your yard now will still be there for Christmas. In fact the GFS solution (above) is hinting at another storm December 20-22. We’ll see. Highs may reach the 20s Christmas Eve, but the long (long!) range outlook for Christmas Day calls for highs in the teens; lows may dip below zero. Santa will need his Thinsulate.


32 F. high yesterday in the Twin Cities.

29 F. average high for December 9.

17 F. high on December 9, 2011.

10.2″ snow fell as of 7 pm yesterday at MSP International, a new snowfall record for December 9. The old record was 7.4″ on December 9, 1961.

“Faith is to believe what we cannot see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” – Augustine



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Welcome to the WeatherNation blog. Every day I sift through hundreds of stories, maps, graphics and meteorological web sites, trying to capture some of the most interesting weather nuggets, the stories behind the forecast. I’ll link to stories and share some of the web sites I use. I’m still passionate about the weather, have been ever since Tropical Storm Agnes flooded my home in Lancaster, PA in 1972. I’ve started 5 weather-related companies. “EarthWatch” created the world’s first 3-D weather graphics for TV stations – Steven Spielberg used our software in “Jurassic Park” and “Twister”. My last company, “Digital Cyclone”, personalized weather for cell phones. “My-Cast” was launched in 2001 and is still going strong on iPhone, Android and Blackberry. I sold DCI to Garmin in 2007 so I could focus on my latest venture: WeatherNation. I also write a daily weather column for The Star Tribune And if you’re on Twitter, you’ll find me @pdouglasweather


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