Sunday, January 31, 2010

1-2" of Minnesota Powder

Update. Monday, 1 pm. Light snow continues to fall from a weak clipper-like system racing across Minnesota. I still think we're on track to pick up 1-2" of light, fluffy, powdery snow by the evening hours. As expected the PM rush is going to be a bit of a mess, perhaps double the normal commute times (the salt/sand mix used by MnDOT doesn't work nearly as well when temperatures are in the teens). Give yourself extra time to get around town today. Less than 1" is likely to our north, from Little Falls to the Lake Mille Lacs area, to the far northern suburbs of the Twin Cities. Some 2-4" amounts are possible from Willmar to the southern 'burbs of the Twin Cities, but most of us should wind up with 1-2" of new fluff. Hardly a snowy catastrophe, but the timing couldn't have been much worse.

Yesterday I did a little recreational dog-sledding on a frozen lake nearby. Ice-fishing, snowmobiles, ATV's, a little chili and cheese out on the tundra - celebrating the 1st Annual WeatherNation Winter Bash. Some of our on-air meteorologists are from Florida, and they had this deer-in-the-headlights expression, slipping & sliding around on over 2 feet of solid ice, loving every slippery moment. This is the secret to not only surviving, but ENJOYING a Minnesota winter. Shake off the initial urge to hibernate, curl up in the fetal position until the mercury strikes 50 - go out and grab Old Man Winter by the collar and shake him around a little. Nothing better to chase away the midwinter blues and lift yourself out of an arctic funk that playing in the snow - it brings out the 10-year old in all of us. Don't get me wrong, I'm looking forward to the day when I can step outside without looking like the Michelin Man, wrapped in multiple layers of cotton and wool. That day is approaching faster than you might think. 20s are likely later this week, possibly some low 30s by the weekend. With the warming trend will come a growing chance of wintry precipitation, as early as this afternoon and evening, when we get grazed by an Alberta Clipper capable of a quick inch or two of ill-timed snow. Yes, you should get off to work, school or the store this morning with very few weather-induced headaches, but the PM commute may be a longer ordeal, a parade of brake-lights barely visible through waves of light to moderate snow.

No, we probably won't see this much snow later today. It should be considerably less, more like 1", more south of town, less to the north. That's more than fell during all of January, btw.

A thoroughly forgettable January. What a strange month: -15 F (air temperature!) the morning of Jan. 2, 11 nights below zero, and then a welcome mid-month thaw (7 days above freezing from the 16th to the 23rd) and a very significant RAIN event on the 23rd (.23"), followed by a numbing end to the month. The upshot: the entire (wacky) month averaged close to normal, at least as of Jan. 30 - and we only saw a pitiful 3.1" of snow during what is - historically - the snowiest month of the year. By comparison Washington D.C. picked up 7.4" of snow in January, Memphis, Tennessee saw 1.4", St. Cloud saw a paltry .9". Let me get this straight: Memphis saw more January snow than St. Cloud? Strange but true...

When it's this cold it doesn't take much upward motion throughout the atmosphere for a quick, inconvenient inch of Minnesota powder. As if often the case, it's not just the amount of snow - it's the timing. The salt/sand mix put down on our highways by MnDOT works much better at 25-30 F than it does with temperatures in the teens, so expect some very slippery spots out there. The obvious problem: even a little snow will cover up the 1/2 to 1" of ice lurking out there. Leave extra time to get home, the combination of 1-2" of snow (more south, less north) + temperatures in the mid teens + extra rush hour traffic = a possible 4 on the dreaded Hassle Factor (which goes from 1 to 5, with 1 being smooth sailing and 5 equating to a parking lot with all the engines running). You've been warned.

Another fickle clipper. I hate these meteorological concoctions - they are notoriously fickle, even harder to predict with any precision than (wetter/warmer) storms approaching from Texas or Missouri. A slight zig or zag to the storm track, even 50 miles, can make the difference between flurries - and 5" of flurries. But the trends seem undeniable: more snow south/west of the Minnesota River - far less snow north of St. Cloud and the Twin Cities. The farther south/west you drive today - away from town - the heavier the snow and worse the PM travel conditions. Right now I'm thinking about 1/2 to 1 1/2" from St. Cloud - down Interstate 94 - to the Twin Cities.

A warm oasis. You don't see this very often. The 6-10 Day Extended Outlook from CPC, the Climate Prediction Center, is predicting warmer than normal temperatures for the Upper Midwest, temperatures trending cooler over just about the entire rest of America. Thank you El Nino! For more climate information as far out as 90 days into the future click here.

Light snow tapers off a bit on Tuesday - travel conditions improve by Wednesday and Thursday before the next wave of moisture surges northward from the Gulf of Mexico late in the week. The models are still a bit contradictory and nebulous, but I could easily see a couple inches of additional snow from Friday into Saturday - the lowest mile of the atmosphere < style="font-weight: bold;">

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Mostly cloudy, best chance of light snow afternoon/evening hours, from 1/2 to 1 1/2" possible. Far south metro may pick up 1-3" of snow by tonight. Roads will be slippery later today. Winds: East 5-10. High: 12

Tonight: Light snow tapers to flurries - icy roads. Low: 3

Tuesday: Lingering clouds and flurries, another dusting/coating. High: 15

Wednesday: More clouds than sun, a bit milder. High: 23

Thursday: Patchy clouds, relatively good travel conditions. High: 24

Friday: Another period of light snow, around 1" possible. High: 26

Saturday: More light snow/flurries, an inch or two can't be ruled out. High: 28

Sunday: Flurries taper, better travel weather. High: near 30

Monday: Turning windy/colder with passing flurries. High: 28 (falling through the 20s).

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Forecast: February Slush

The cold is getting....old. At some point one just grows weary, exhausted by uncontrollable shivering, tired of being assaulted (daily) with the latest wind chill, sick of pleading with your car heater, irritable from clenching your fists & holding your breath every time you wander out to get the mail. It's the cold AND the ice - shuffling out to the mailbox every morning to rescue my morning newspapers, picking each step extra-carefully, trying to keep from becoming instantly-horizontal. Don't get me wrong: I like the snow - enjoy revving up the sleds, hitting the trails, getting pelted in the face by stray ice-balls thrown by my two grown sons. Groundhog Day is Tuesday, and I have a hunch, a gut feel (nausea?) that Punxetawney Phil WILL see his shadow, insuring 6 more weeks of winter. At this latitude that's pretty much guaranteed.

Cue the Hallelujah Chorus. Oh sweet, ice-melting relief! The models are in pretty good agreement. The core of the coldest Canadian air will retreat northward in the coming days, our winds originating from Vancouver and Seattle instead of the Yukon. That should mean highs near 30 by the end of the week.

A Week's Worth of Records. Since last Saturday 2,258 (daily) records have been reported across the lower 48 states. Green: record daily rainfall, red dots: record highs, yellow: record nighttime lows. Check out the record daily snowfall records clustered around Oklahoma and Arkansas. To get specifics (from Ham Weather) for any record event click over to Ham Weather here.

Latest Snow Cover. According to NOAA southwestern MN, the Red River Valley and the North Shore has the most snow on the ground, 10-20" or so. From St. Cloud to the Twin Cities less than 7-8" is on the ground. Our recent (heavy) rain compacted the snow, we're down 2-4" in just the last week.

Winter Overview
. This NOAA graphic shows average temperatures for the USA, Minnesota temperatures 1-2 F. warmer than average, while much cooler weather has been observed from Phoenix and northern Mexico to San Antonio, New Orleans and Mobile, possibly a symptom of El Nino.

That said, the atmosphere is about to shift gears - a Pacific breeze will kick in later this week, meaning 20s, even some low 30s by the end of the week. A weak clipper may brush the area with a very light accumulation late Monday into Tuesday (coating to 1/2 or 1", tops). Another "nuisance" snowfall is possible by late Thursday and Friday, another inch or slush. Some of the long range guidance is hinting at enough warm air aloft for a period of rain around Feb. 11-12 with highs well up in the 30s to near 40.

Clipped Again. Models are hinting at a couple inches of snow next week, the best chance of a light coating Monday night - again late Thursday into Friday. I think the models are overestimating snowfall amounts a bit - no significant accumulation is in sight for the next 7-10 days. Snow lovers will have to be patient another couple of weeks, I'm afraid.

St. Cloud has only picked up .9" of snow all month (we should have picked up closer to 10" of snow in January). This is, at least on paper, the coldest, snowiest month of the year. Right. In spite of a numbing start to the month, and a cold finish, our midweek thaw was significant enough that temperatures for the entire month are running about 1 degree above average, a bit surprising considering all the shivering we've been doing in recent days. Temperatures should trend 5-10 degrees above average through the first half of February; models hinting at a colder front for the third week of February (but not as chilling as recent days).

An early spring? Here in Minnesota? Nice try Paul. Ease up on your meds, would you? Based on a lingering El Nino warming of equatorial Pacific water the deep south is forecast to be cooler, wetter and stormier from February through April, while warmer-than-normal weather is predicted for the northern half of America, including Minnesota. I think this is a believable scenario (but I wouldn't be the farm on a 90 day outlook).

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Partly sunny, quite cold. Winds: NW 5-15. High: 12

Tonight: Patchy clouds, plenty cold. Low: -2

Monday: Clouds increase, a period of light snow possible PM hours, best chance south/west of the MN River. High: 14

Tuesday: Lingering flurries, few slick spots. High: 16

Wednesday: Feeling a bit better out there, intervals of sun. High: 23

Thursday: Mostly cloudy, few flakes around town. High: 26

Friday: Light snow/flurries, "nuisance" accumulation possible, maybe a coating. High: 27

Saturday: Light snow, potential for an inch or so. High: 28

Sunday: Leftover clouds, above average for a change. High: near 30

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Keeping a little perspective

"Any day you can crawl to the window and look out is a good day."

- anonymous

Yesterday was a tough day. I went to a funeral for a close friend, a next-door neighbor who died at the age of 52, a tragic death. She leaves behind an amazing husband and 4 exemplary boys. It was a painful reminder of the fragility of life - the stuff most of us take for granted every day. So I won't complain about the current temperature or the predicted wind chill. Not today. No time soon.

Anatomy of a cold wave. Here are the predicted temperatures across North America for 7 am this morning. Purple connotes subzero readings - the freezing line extending way south from near Dallas to Little Rock to Wilmington, North Carolina. This is about as cold as it's going to get, nationwide, looking out the next 2-3 weeks.

A welcome February thaw. The GFS brings the (wondrous!) 32 degree isotherm into central Minnesota by 7 pm next Thursday, Feb. 4. The worst of our current cold wave will be winding down by early next week.

A welcome warming trend is still showing up on the horizon, the atmosphere forecast to shift gears from a Yukon breeze to more of a Pacific flow by the latter half of next week. That means a rerun of 20s and 30s, temperatures trending 5-10 degrees ABOVE average by the first full weekend of February. The pattern still isn't ripe for a major storm anytime soon - a weak, clipper-like system capable of whipping up a coating of light snow Monday of next week. The GFS model is still hinting at a more significant storm between Feb. 7 (Sunday) and Feb. 9 (Tuesday). Right now it looks like rain ending as a couple inches of slushy snow, but a lot can change between now and then. Until then: relatively smooth sailing, no travel-busting storms, toe-curling cold through the weekend, followed by some real moderation, a definite mellowing of our weather, by the end of next week.

Rain/snow mix? The GFS model is suggesting that the air will be marginally warm enough in the lowest mile of the atmosphere for mostly-rain by the weekend of Feb. 6-7. The rain/snow line is forecast to set up from Duluth to St. Cloud to Pipestone by midday Monday: rain east, mostly-snow west. A changeover to wet snow is possible Monday-Tuesday with a potential for a couple of inches. The confidence level is low, this event is still 9-10 days away.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Plenty of sun - yes, it's "cold enough for me." Winds: SE 5-10. High: 9

Tonight: Mostly clear, numbing. Low: -7

Saturday: Sunshine much of the day. High: 15

Sunday: Increasing clouds, flurries possible late. High: 17

Monday: Light snow/flurries, coating possible. High: 19

Tuesday: Flurries giving way to partial clearing. High: 17

Wednesday: More clouds than sun. High: near 20

Thursday: Mostly cloudy, noticeably milder. High: 26

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A badly-needed February thaw

Yes, it's cold out there, but my (esoteric) question remains: can you really feel the difference between -5 and -15? Not sure. Can you be any number than....numb? I have no idea. Maybe frostbite sets in faster, the slow, insidious drop-off in body temperature (hypothermia) sets in quicker. But I'll be darned if I can tell a difference. A little perspective is in order here: this latest arctic smack will NOT be as memorable as our streak of subzero lows the first week of January. So far we've had 9 subzero nights in the Twin Cities, air temperatures as cold as -15 F.

Slushy February? Check out the raw model output (GFS) for the first 12 days of February. Daytime highs close to freezing, the atmosphere (potentially) warm enough for mostly-rain from Feb. 10-12, when the model prints out over 1" of precipitation.

Things just have an (uncanny) way of evening things out, the high "highs" usually balance out the lowest "lows". We got off to a very cold start, no question - but the middle of January was unusually mild, and you may be surprised to hear that - for the entire month - temperatures are running almost 1.6 degrees F above average across central Minnesota. With the mercury dipping 10-20 degrees below average through Saturday we may wind up with January temperatures (for the entire month) a degree or two below average. Remember, there is no such thing as "average weather", not in Minnesota.

The pattern still isn't ripe for a major storm looking out through the first week of February, although the long-range GFS model is hinting at a mix, possibly even heavy rain, between Feb. 10-12. That's way out on the horizon, confidence levels are low, but I think it's fairly safe to say that you won't do any heavy-duty shoveling anytime soon. A clipper-like system may whip up a light coating of snow next Monday, but here's the big weather story: we end out January on a numbing note, but temperatures should rebound nicely after Feb. 2 or so - I see a string of 20s and 30s from Feb. 2 through the middle of February, and with a rising sun angle and a slowly shrinking snow pack, the odds of long-lasting subzero outbreaks drop off fairly significantly as we go through the month of February. We are by no means out of the woods, but the El Nino (Pacifi signal) is showing up again, it should mean a reasonable first half of February in the temperature department - nothing controversial, nothing that will tempt a primal scream (or call to your favorite travel agent). Oh, are there any travel agents left?

Next nuisance snowfall event? Models are suggesting a coating to an inch or so of snow next Monday as a clipper-like system sweeps across the Upper Midwest. A more significant storm (possibly a mix of snow/sleet/rain) is predicted for Feb. 10-12.

A few interesting weather nuggets (at least I found them interesting):

(SUN PHOTO/Ernie Imhoff/Mount Washington summit, January 1999)

We have a new worldwide wind record. The old record of 231 mph for a wind gust on the top of Mt. Washington, N.H. (highest weather observatory in the U.S.) - set in 1934 during a severe winter storm - has fallen by the wayside. The new record: 254 mph during Cyclone (same as hurricane) Olivia in 1996. Check out the new record right here.

Aunt Edna complaining about her aching knee, insisting a storm is coming? You may want to listen up. The field of "bio-meteorology" is bustling, especially in Europe. Changes in temperature, humidity and pressure CAN have a significant impact on the physical and mental health of many Americans - some of us seem to be more weather-sensitive than others. For an interesting story on weather & health click here.

We are 61st - we are 61st! America leads a lot of important lists, but when it comes to environmental action, we're pretty far down on the list. Iceland is #1, China is a (pathetic) #121st. For the (rather embarrassing) details click here.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Windchill advisory this morning for western suburbs (feels like -20 F at times). Partly sunny, cold wind. Winds: West 10-15. High: 6

Tonight: Mostly clear, coldest night this week? Low: -11

Friday: Bright sun, numbing (less wind though). High: 8

Saturday: Mix of clouds and sun, not as arctic. High: 13

Sunday: Clouds increase, flurries late. High: 17

Monday: Period of light snow/flurries, coating to 1" possible. High: near 20

Tuesday: Lingering flurries, closer to average. High: 22

Wednesday: A bit "milder", peeks of sun. High: 27

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A state of (reluctant) weather warriors

I just got done watching a story on the Sunday morning CBS newscast, highlighting the spirited, cold weather competition between Embarrass and Tower, Minnesota. Folks up in International Falls have to be feeling a bit left out - if this keeps up they'll have to start testing batteries 100 miles south/east of INL, a combination of terrain, vegetation (or lack thereof) and a total and utter absence of any hint of an urban heat island means that the coldest pocket in the state is probably somewhere between Embarrass and Tower, which still has the state record for the coldest air temperature ever observed (modern day record) - a brisk, invigorating -60 F. That headline-generating, awe-inspiring morning was nearly 13 years ago. Even though the long-term trends are upward and onward, winters are (overall) trending milder, fewer bitter -40 F outbreaks in the last few decades, we still get crazy outbreaks of battery-draining, pipe-rupturing air still smelling of Siberia.

Signs of hope. The models are all in fairly good agreement that temperatures will recover by early next week. Only in Minnesota is a prediction of 20s considered a "warm front." Go figure.

The wicked winds of winter. Winds at 500 mb (about 18,000 feet) show a classic "split flow", an active stormy southerly branch to the jet stream whisking the wettest, wildest storms well south of Minnesota. A bitterly cold northerly branch to the jet stream will keep the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and New England 10-20 degrees colder than average through the end of this week, but winds aloft are forecast to become more "zonal", more west to east, much of next week, meaning a welcome rerun of 20s and 30s. The end is near (to our latest cold wave!)

Yes, it's cold - no debate there. There's something about arctic outbreaks that is refreshingly democratic, rich or poor, young or old - everyone gets to hold their breath walking outside to get the mail, everyone gets to plead with their car heater. The biting breeze crosses all gender, race and age lines, we all suffer, simultaneously. Our reward? The promise of spring (most of the snow will be gone within 8-9 weeks, as hard as that might be to believe right now). Summers in Minnesota are nothing short of magical: Lake Wobegon come to life. Spring can come (and go) in the veritable blink of an eye, but autumn tends to linger, football, falling leaves and the pungent smell of wood-smoke all conspiring to create more great Minnesota memories.

Ski..... Arkansas? Another possible symptom of El Nino? Perhaps. A moderate warming of equatorial Pacific Ocean water tends to favor big storms for California, tracking across the southern U.S. The GFS model is hinting at a major snowfall, maybe a foot or more, from Tulsa to the Ozarks of Arkansas to the higher terrain of Kentucky and the Virginias. By the end of this week these regions may have more snow on the ground than St. Cloud or the Twin Cities. Bizarre, huh?

36 hour snowfall prediction. Just when you think you've seen everything. Dallas, Texas had the first white Christmas in decades. And now a new storm promises to dump a foot or more of snow on the panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma. A touch of lake-effect snow may add a couple inches downwind of the Great Lakes through Friday.

This too shall pass - in fact the worst of the cold will be winding down by the weekend. Suck it up - four more days of intermittent shivering, grumbling & growling about the wind chill, highs in single digits and teens through Saturday, but 20s (above) will feel pretty good by Sunday. An Alberta Clipper whips up a few flurries late Sunday, maybe a light coating of snow Monday as the mercury climbs toward 30 (above!) We cool down again next week, but this outbreak will be relatively brief - more 20s and 30s come sweeping in off the Pacific by the end of next week. This is what we can expect to see in February: more infrequent outbreaks of thumb-numbing air. It WILL get cold, but these outbreaks will get only last a few days, and then we'll bounce back into the 20s and 30s. Within a few weeks I predict we'll sample 40 degrees. The El Nino signal seems to be real this time: a tendency for Pacific storms to give California a good wet whack before tracking across the southern states, keeping the deep south unusually cool, wet and stormy - while the northern tier states, including Minnesota, see more of a Pacific influence, fewer and fewer intrusions from the Arctic Circle? Overly optimistic? Possibly - but I still believe the very worst of winter, in terms of severity and duration of temperatures < style="font-weight: bold;">

Next nuisance snowfall event? The GFS model is hinting at a weak clipper squeezing out a little light snow late Sunday into Monday, maybe an inch for central Minnesota, a couple inches far north. The pattern isn't ripe for significant storms in Minnesota looking out the next 10-15 days.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Some sun, numbing breeze. Clouds increase this afternoon. Winds: W 10-20. High: 9

Tonight: Patchy clouds, feels like -25 F at times. Get me out of here! Low: -6

Thursday: More clouds than sun, few passing flakes. High: 8 (coldest day!)

Friday: More sun, still "Nanook". Can't feel my extremities. Low: -9 High: near 10

Saturday: Sunnier day of the weekend, still numb. Low: -7 High: 13

Sunday: Clouds increase, very light snow/flurries late in the day. Low: 0 High: 23

Monday: A period of light snow/flurries, under 1" expected. High: 26

Tuesday: Windy and colder with gradual clearing. High: 18

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Dark Days

Black armbands, flags at half-staff, knots of (sad-looking) friends and colleagues speaking in hushed tones. Minnesota is still undergoing Vikings-trauma. We've all fallen - and we can't get up. I love the people who say, "it's just a game!" Right, and Superior is just a lake. The truth: Minnesotans need a major winter distraction, a day-dream in purple and gold, a Vikings-shaped vessel to pour their hopes and dreams into. Don't get me wrong, I love the Twins too, but there are so many games the season can get a little blurry at times. With football there are only 16 opportunities to shine, 16 chances to make us forget the windchill, 16 Sundays to ignore the growing stack of bills on the desk. That's why Sunday's showdown in New Orleans was so much more than "a game", at least for die-hard Vikings fans. This past season was like Cinderella (with pads and spiked shoes). Mr. Favre made many of us true-believers, as awkward and painful as it must have been for Packer fans, Brett energized our team, breathed new life into our various midlife crisis - inspired anyone over the age of 40. It was an amazing season, in spite of Sunday's final score.

Feel the burn. The WRF model is predicting temperature close to zero Thursday evening at 6 pm across much of Minnesota as a reinforcing shot of arctic air sweeps south of the border. Although not quite as cold as early January, this will be one of the colder weeks of the winter.

My son is a youngster (sophomore) at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. The midshipmen have a name for this time of year, when days are raw, the sun hanging low and uncertain in the southern sky. Too much work, too many obligations, not enough free-time or me-time, just a seemingly endless string of cold, drab, numbing days stretching to eternity. Depression and anxiety peaks in January, a pervasive sense of hopelessness, tinged with despair. For many - this really is the dark days, still digging out from holiday bills, the arctic chill just adds insult to injury. My take? We're picking up 1-2 minutes of new daylight every passing day. Within 1 week (1 week!) the average temperature starts to rise again, for the first time in 6 months. Scanning the weather maps I'm still (reasonably) convinced that the very worst of winter is behind us, the coldest, longest stretch of subzero days and nights.

Land of the free, home of the snow-weary. Check out how much snow is on the ground over the western and northern third of the USA, although not as extensive and widespread as during the first week of January. Southwestern Minnesota still boasts the most snow on the ground, a cool 15-20"+. The North Shore of Lake Superior has just as much, 12-24" just north/east of Duluth.

Nagging flood potential. According to NOAA there is at least 4-7" of liquid water wrapped up in the snow south/west of the Minnesota River. The concern: a sudden thaw, coupled with moderate/heavy rain, could trigger rapid snow-melt in March and early April, increasing the potential for flooding on Minnesota's rivers. Too early to predict with any certainty, but the risk is there.

Speaking of subzero - are you enjoying your Tuesday? Yes, this is an acquired taste. But keep in mind our coldest days are usually sunny, blue sky draped overhead. Today the sun will be as high in the sky as it was back on November 15! O.K. I'm grasping at (cold) straws here, but my point is this: we're just about to turn a big corner. Within a mere 30 days we'll see 40s, even a few 50s. Within a month the ice houses will start to come off area lakes - thoughts will turn to spring break, graduation, prom and the fishing opener. Don't get me wrong: there's still plenty of winter left to go - more snow, more outdoor fun in the Minnesota powder, but the (continuous) chirping of some very brave, hearty (stupid?) birds outside my house every morning are a welcome reminder that there will be a spring this year. Hang in there - as soon as next week we'll see a welcome rerun of 20s and 30s as Pacific air filters back into Minnesota.

In the short term this week will be a subtle (yet blunt) reminder that this is - historically - the bottom of the barrel, when temperatures usually flatten out, hit bottom. That's why city fathers (and mothers) in St. Paul chose the last 10 days of January for their big Carnival. They chose these days, confident that these were the 10 days of winter where melting snow/ice was LEAST LIKELY. That's why Saturday's rain was such a shock to the system. Whether it was a symptom of El Nino or just a strange meteorological fluke, it was highly unusual for late January. Between Saturday's rain and Sunday's "dry tongue" snow lovers are in a bit of a funk right about now, and I don't have any big "snow headlines" - the pattern just not ripe for any fresh snow anytime soon. Good news for commuters, bad news for anyone hoping for a few inches of cold, crystalline Minnesota fun.

Climate Data for Monday, January 25.

:            STATION           MAX     MIN       SNOW  SNOW
STC : ST CLOUD MN ARPT : 21 / 17 / 0.7 8
MSP : MINNEAPOLIS MN ARPT : 25 / 19 / 0.9 7
DLH : DULUTH AIRPORT : 27 / 18 / 4.2 25
INL : INTERNATIONAL FALLS : 30 / 11 / 6.4 21
HIB : HIBBING ARPT : 26 / 15 / M M
GNA : GRAND MARAIS MN : 37 / 24 / M M
RST : ROCHESTER MN ARPT : 26 / 15 / 0.2 11

February thaw? Check out the predicted temperatures (GFS model) for 6 am Monday morning, February 1. Temperatures are forecast to be above 30 across much of central and southern Minnesota - a badly needed upward blip in the mercury, just 6 days away.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Sunshine returns, numbing breeze - feels like -10 F. Winds: West 10-15. High: 11

Tonight: Clear and "Nanook". Low: -5

Wednesday: Plenty of sun, still chilling. High: 9

Thursday: More clouds, few flurries possible. Low: -5. High: 6

Friday: Increasingly sunny, an arctic breeze. Low: -8. High: 9

Saturday: Mix of clouds and sun, not quite as cold. Low: -7. High: 15

Sunday: Mostly cloudy, light snow possible late. High: 23

Monday: Light snow, flurries - noticeably milder. High: 33

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Vikes Hangover (and a candy-coating of snow)

Update: 10:30 am, Monday morning

Light snow continues to fall, whipped up by gusty (30 mph) winds howling from the northwest, creating near-blizzard conditions across the Red River Valley. In general: the farther north/west you drive across the state, the worse driving conditions will be today. I'm still thinking 1-2" of powdery, fluffy snow - prone to blowing and drifting. Visibilities will be low, near white-out conditions. Leave extra time to get home later today. Conditions improve tomorrow as flurries taper but prepare for the coldest spell of weather in over 2 weeks: highs stuck in single digits and teens with a wind chill dipping to -15 to -20 F at times. Not as nasty-numbing as the first week of January, but close, a subtle yet blunt reminder that THIS is the DEAD OF WINTER!

"Nothing like a good football team to distract Minnesotans from the weather brewing outside...."

- close friend (who wishes to remain anonymous)

I doubt I'm the only one drained, mentally-exhausted, hoarse from screaming at my TV set Sunday evening. I love football, but after the 5th (Vikings) turnover I was purple alright, apoplectic with crazy-rage, pacing like an expectant father. The sight of Favre limping off the field: like a punch in the gut. What a game. We can be very proud of our team, in spite of the final score. It may have been the most exciting, most even-matched game of the year. Oh yeah, the weather. Speaking of screaming, I'm not sure if it was a screaming jet stream wind direct from Texas (or Vikes fever) that melted 3" of snow Saturday, triggering mostly-rain on what is historically one of the coldest days of the entire year. A total of .60" of rain fell on the St. Cloud area Saturday, .23" in the Twin Cities; had the mercury been 3-5 degrees colder (throughout the lowest mile of the atmosphere) we would have picked up 2-4" of wet snow Saturday, instead of accumulating puddles and drippy icicles. On Sunday a surge of dry air aloft (the dreaded "dry tongue") cut off the heaviest snow amounts, sparking more flurries/drizzle than real precipitation. So snow lovers are feeling especially unlucky and unloved - an almost March-like rain event Saturday, and by the time the atmosphere is finally cold enough for snow, an invasion of dry air from Arizona chokes off the storm, like bad fuel gumming up a vehicle's carburetor. Oh well, it just wasn't in the cards over the weekend, but we will wind up with a little fresh snow for our trouble: an inch or two may accumulate today and tonight as moisture from the Gulf of Mexico wraps entirely around a Great Lakes storm, approaching from the NORTH. With temperatures tumbling through the 20s into the teens the salt/sand mixture put down by MnDOT plows won't be nearly as effective (as when the mercury is closer to 30 F.) and many roads will become snow-covered as the day goes on. Leave a few extra minutes to get home by late afternoon - we all realize it doesn't take much snow to produce gridlock on the highways. TIMING is almost as important as the actual amount of snow. Even a minor fender-bender, at the wrong intersection, at precisely the wrong time, can bring rush hour traffic to a grinding halt. We've seen worse (I'm thinking travel conditions around Christmas Eve/Day) but I think travel will be negatively impacted, especially PM hours today into tonight.

A rerun of parka & coat weather! Forecast for wake-up temperatures Wednesday morning, ranging from -5 F. in St. Cloud to 1 above in the Twin Cities. Yes, our pleasant little midwinter daydream, our weather honeymoon is drawing to a close - no more soothing, reasonable Pacific breeze looking out for the next 5-6 days. Although not as cold as early January, expect a colder than average week (by a few degrees). No records, nothing controversial - just classic cold Minnesota weather as we finish what is historically the coldest week of the entire year. To see the latest graphical forecasts looking out 7 days for Minnesota and the entire USA click over to NOAA right here.

One fickle mid-winter storm. Saturday temperatures (aloft) too warm for snow across most of Minnesota, then a surge of dry air cutting off snow Sunday (except for the Minnesota Arrowhead, where 3-8" piled up closer to the Lake Superior shoreline). Today moisture wrapping completely around the storm, approaching from the north, will spark a period of accumulating snow, maybe an inch or two by late Monday night. We will have something to show for this storm in terms of snow, but not much. To see the very latest (high-res) weather map click here.

Barely "plowable". The NAM weather model is hinting at more snow east of St. Cloud, less west, maybe 1-2" by late tonight. The rest of the week looks fairly dry, future storms sliding off well south/west of Minnesota through the weekend.

Big ouch! I guess it was as inevitable as gravity & taxes: with long nights and plenty of snow on the ground across Canada and the northern tier states of the USA there is still plenty of potential for bitter air to build to our north and seep south of the border. Daytime highs will be stuck in the teens for daytime highs most of this week, at least 4-5 nights below zero - but not as bitter as it was at the beginning of the month.

February thaw? The 15-day GFS model brings milder Pacific air back into Minnesota by the first week of February, the coldest, subzero air dammed up a few hundred miles to our north. No prolonged, subzero outbreaks are in sight right now.

A reinforcing jab of even colder air will brush Minnesota by Thursday/Friday - the core of the coldest air aimed at the Great Lake and New England. The pattern won't be ripe for significant precipitation (of any flavor) looking out the next 10-15 days or so - I could see a nuisance snowfall one week from today - so you won't have to do any serious shoveling or scraping anytime soon. Consider clearing any slush off your driveway or sidewalk today, because within 24 hours or so it'll become a permanent part of your yard as the mercury dwindles towards zero. The last arctic front? Hardly, but I still maintain the worst of winter is in our rear-view mirror. That may be wishful thinking on my part, but with daylight increasing by 1-2 minutes/day and El Nino nudging upper-level steering winds into more of a Pacific-favored, west-to-east flow, the odds of sustained, subzero (highs) drop off fairly quickly during the month of February. I think it's safe to say "the worst is over", but there's still plenty of winter left to enjoy/endure.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Windy with light snow, maybe 1-2" - roads becoming slippery. Winds: NW 15-30. High: 27 (early) falling to 20 by the dinner hour.

Tonight: Partial clearing, colder with wind chills dipping to -20 at times. Low: 2

Tuesday: Flurries giving way to cold sun. High: 12

Wednesday: Blue sky, colder than average. High: 10

Thursday: Intervals of sun, passing flakes, still storm-free. High: 9

Friday: Mix of clouds and sun, last nippy day. High: 12

Saturday: Partly sunny, not as numbing. High: 119

Sunday: Clouds increase, flurries late. High: 23

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Vikes Warning: New Orleans Threatened

What a waste of moisture. Too much rain (Saturday), too much dry air aloft (today). Everything that could go wrong DID go wrong for Minnesota snow lovers. For the better part of 10 days we've been talking about an unusual rain event for much of Minnesota this weekend; amazingly, things panned out pretty much as predicted - a cold rain much of yesterday, changing to wet snow today. But here's the rub: just about the time the lowest mile of the atmosphere is cold enough for snow, a surge of dry air direct from the Desert Southwest (the dreaded "dry tongue") is cutting off the most significant precipitation, keeping snow very light today. Getting to that Vikes party/viewing/reception won't be too bad later today, a coating to at most an inch of snow on secondary roads and side streets, temperatures still just (barely) warm enough to keep major roads and freeways mostly-wet.

Barely plowable
. A period of light, accumulating snow is still likely from late Sunday night into Monday. Models are suggesting 1-3" of snow from St. Cloud into the Twin Cities. Travel conditions will gradually deteriorate today as the mercury drops below freezing, but I have a hunch that Minnesota's highways will be in much worse shape Monday into Tuesday morning, the result of a couple inches of snow coupled with temperatures in the teens and 20s. Give yourself extra time to get around town Monday and Tuesday AM.

Outlook: a very quiet Superdome by Q4. Morning showers in New Orleans, some PM sun, high near 68. Vikes by 7.

Get this: moisture wrapping around our ill-fated Great Lakes storm will approach from the NORTH late Sunday night and Monday, we may still wind up with a couple inches of snow, and travel conditions will go steadily downhill as the mercury drops through the 20s, gusty northwest winds picking up on the backside of this rare January slop-storm. That said, Saturday's soaking rain turned our snow to mush, and now that mush will freeze solid this week as daytime highs flounder in the teens to near 20, a couple degrees below average - but not quite as numbing as it was in late December and the first week of January. The GFS is still hinting at 20s returning by the first week of February, even a shot at 30.

An inevitable downward spiral. No more 30s in sight for the next 7-9 days. The same storm that dumped unusual amounts of rain (and ice) on Minnesota will inhale a fresh burst of numbing Canadian air into Minnesota - shortly it will feel like classic late January weather!

No more significant storms are showing up on the horizon, long-range models hinting at an inch or two of snow roughly 7-8 days from now. A word to the wise: even though all thoughts are on our beloved Vikings today, sneak outside and try to get the water/slush off your driveway or sidewalk today, because if you don't - it'll turn into an icy, cement-like, immovable coating of sheer ice within 24-36 hours. Yes, this is the coldest week of the year (on average) and Old Man Winter is about to prove it to us. We've been pampered for the better part of 2 weeks, but a serious reality check is right around the corner.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Overcast with a cold wind, periods of (very) light snow/flurries. Coating to an inch possible. Mainly wet major roads/freeways, some snow on side-streets by this evening and tonight. Winds: NW 15-25. High: 34

Tonight: Light snow, roads become increasingly slick. Low: 23

Monday: Light snow, another 1-2" (total of 1-3" from this system). High: 24

Tuesday: Flurries taper, PM sun, much colder. High: 15 Low: -1

Wednesday: Bright sun, numbing breeze. High: 16 Low: -5

Thursday: Mix of clouds and sun, few degrees colder than average. High: 18

Friday: Plenty of sun. High: 19

Saturday: Drier day of the weekend, fading sun. High: 22

Sunday: Cloudy, a little light snow possible late. High: 24

Friday, January 22, 2010

Blame El Nino

Rain in late January? Where are we living - Little Rock? Memphis? Wichita? On some level it's a little hard to comprehend the notion of LIQUID precipitation falling during one of the coldest 10 days of the entire year (at least on paper). But to quote Vonnegut, "and so it goes." The current pattern is consistent with kinds of atmospheric symptoms observed during a moderate El Nino event, a warming of equatorial Pacific Ocean water, which tends to increase the frequency/intensity of storms hitting California - with a much more active storm track over the southern U.S. than usual during the winter months. During El Nino winters the deep south tends to be wetter and cooler than average, a more pronounced Pacific flow penetrating farther inland, keeping the northern tier states of the U.S. (including Minnesota) warmer than average. We sailed through December and the first week of January with no real El Nino signal showing up on the maps, but since about Jan. 7 North America has entered a milder, stormier, more Pacific-influenced pattern. Today's rain storm may, on some level, be a bi-product of this cyclical warming of Pacific water which kicks in every 4-6 years. As in all things meteorological - it's awfully tough connecting the dots, proving cause and effect.

An unfavorable track for statewide snow. A perfect track for snow runs across central Iowa over La Crosse and Eau Claire, Wisconsin. In the case of this weekend's storm the track will be a couple hundred miles too far west, dragging unusually warm air well north, sparking a cold rain instead of moderate/heavy snow. Colder air filtering in on the backside of the storm Sunday and Monday will spark a period of snow, but only the Dakotas and parts of the Red River Valley will see all-snow.

Watches, warnings and advisories. A glaze ice risk south/east of the Twin Cities (especially early Saturday morning). Although mostly-rain is expected Saturday over southern and even central MN, the farther north/west you drive, the better the odds of running into a wintry mix of rain/ice/snow. Warnings are posted for far western Minnesota, where much of the precipitation will fall as snow - and a good 6-8"+ is possible by Monday night.

The same storm that battered California with drenching rains, high winds, rare January tornadoes, thunder, lightning and hail - sparking a series of mudslides and precautionary evacuations in the suburbs of L.A. will churn northward across the Plains today, yanking unusually warm air unusually far north. Snow requires sub-freezing temperatures throughout the lowest mile of the atmosphere; even a shallow layer of air > 32 F can instantly melt snow and turn it into a cold rain - such will be the case today, highs reaching the low to mid 30s. Across far western and northern Minnesota cold surfaces may trigger a period of dangerous glaze ice, even a few hours of sleet (ice pellets). The Dakotas and much of the Red River Valley should remain cold enough for mostly snow, and it may wind up being quite an impressive pile by Monday, some 10-15" amounts aren't out of the question. But the main surge of moisture, coming today, will be rain for much of southern and even central Minnesota. Too bad for snow lovers. Conservatively, had temperatures been only 5 degrees colder, we'd be looking at over a foot for much of the area. I've said it before: this almost looks more like a March slop-storm, not something you'd expect to experience during the dead of winter. Odd.

Latest snowfall prediction. Rain/ice Saturday gives way to a changeover to wet snow Sunday, and despite a brief break (dreaded "dry tongue" sweeping in from the southwest) moisture wraps all the way around the storm, keeping light snow in the forecast from late Sunday into Tuesday morning. A couple inches of slush may pile up in the Twin Cities, closer to 2-5" for the St. Cloud area, 6-8" from Brainerd to Detroit Lakes, Wheaton and Moorhead.

PROVING that snow lovers in Minnesota lead quiet, desperate lives, by the time it's actually cold enough for snow (Sunday) a surge of dry air will sweep in from the Desert Southwest, what some geeky, socially-stunted meteorologists (no, not me!) lovingly refer to as the "dreaded dry tongue." Sounds like something you might see on the menu of a bad deli. It's nearly as disappointing, at least for a significant number of Minnesotans who LIKE snow! Seems like we're being cheated, punished by a preternaturally fickle Old Man Winter, but so it goes with big, mature storms. The bigger the storm, the higher the likelihood of dry air wrapping into the storm's circulation - causing the heaviest snow, rain or ice to taper off to a fine mist, drizzle or flurries. Eventually snow will wrap completely around the storm (approaching from the north!) and trigger an inch or two for MSP by midday Monday. But parts of central Minnesota may still experience a "plowable" snowfall, as much as 2-5" or more, with some 6-8"+ amounts west of Willmar, Alexandria, Wadena on north toward Brainerd, Pequot Lakes and Bemidji. A coold 10-12" may still pile up from Moorhead north to Grand Forks and Thief River Falls. In general, the farther north/west you drive across the state, the worse travel conditions will become, with more precipitation falling as snow, less ice and rain.

So close and yet so far. Oh well. There's always the next storm. And if you want to see a cool foot of snow load the kids up in the car and just drive west. Eventually you'll run into more snow than you know what to do with!

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Winter Weather Advisory. Icy mix giving way to a period of rain, windy and raw. Winds: SE 15-25 High: 36

Tonight: Rain changes to wet snow by morning. Low: 33

Sunday: A changeover to mostly snow - starts to accumulate by PM hours. High: 34 (falling into the 20s by evening).

Monday: Windy and colder with periods of light snow, another inch or so (totals from 1-3" from this entire storm system). High: 23

Tuesday: Flurries taper. Cold sun returns - better travel conditions. High: 17 Low: -5

Wednesday: Bright sun, few degrees cooler than average. High: 18

Thursday: Mix of clouds and sun. High: 19

Friday: Sun giving way to increasing clouds. High: 17

The GFS is hinting at more 30s from Feb. 2 - 7. This next cold spell will NOT be as long (or as deep) as late December into early January.

Storm Update - Weekend Slop-Storm

1-10", give or take. I wasn't kidding with the massive snowfall range I predicted earlier. Click on the map to take it full-screen and you'll see the (incredible) contrast from the eastern suburbs of St. Paul (maybe a slushy inch?) to Brainerd, where 10" may pile up by Monday. Again (disclaimer time), a slight shift in the storm track, even 50-75 miles, could make the difference between a couple inches and a major snowfall. People in Wadena, Detroit Lakes and Cross Lake can look forward to a significant new pile of white in their yards by Monday, but from Monticello, Elk River and Delano south/east towards the Twin Cities, Mankato and Cannon Falls, the vast bulk of the heaviest precipitation will probably fall as rain.

11 am Friday Update

Just got a look at the latest guidance: still feel fairly comfortable (wrong word) with 3-6" for the greater St. Cloud area, but less for the Twin Cities, possibly 2-4" (4" western 'burbs) with a higher percentage of rain/ice for the southeastern half of Minnesota. A significant percentage of precipitation this weekend will fall as rain (mainly Saturday). The farther north/west you travel across Minnesota, the less rain you'll see, more precipitation falling as snow/sleet/freezing rain. Parts of the Red River Valley and far western MN (near the Dakota line) could still pick up 8-12" of snow by Monday, but between a changeover to rain - and the "dreaded dry tongue", a surge of dry air sweeping in from the Desert Southwest, snow amounts will quickly taper as you approach the Twin Cities - Rochester/Winona may be lucky to pick up 1-2" of slushy snow at the tail-end of this messy storm late Sunday into Monday. Expect mainly wet (major) roads tomorrow with mostly-rain, but a changeover back to snow is still likely Sunday as the atmosphere cools, but the latest guidance is strongly hinting at dry air cutting off the heaviest snow Sunday - the real action shifts farther east into Wisconsin, closer to the actual storm track.

Tracking the dreaded "dry tongue". Check out the surge of dry air wrapping into the storm circulation by noon on Sunday. The heaviest precipitation (mostly rain) is forecast to be over Wisconsin and Illinois - if the NAM model verifies the snow should be very light for much of Sunday, good news if you're trying to get to a Vikes party later in the afternoon. Moisture will wrap around the Great Lakes storm, meaning light snow lingering into much of Monday. I don't expect travel conditions to improve significantly until Tuesday, when temperatures fall into the teens. Yes, it's going to get cold again, but only for 4-5 days. Long-range guidance is hinting at more 20s, even a shot at 30 by the first week of February.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tracking a major slop-storm

Just once I'd like a winter storm that is black and white, not some nebulous, hard-to-fathom shade of gray. Here's the sad, exhilarating truth about meteorology: weather patterns may be similar, but every day is a new creation, every storm a new challenge. The truth? The following forecast should come with a disclaimer, like a pack of cigarettes. The computer models we rely on (for any forecast beyond 24 hours) are wildly divergent, one of them is definitely out-to-lunch. The GFS is hinting at a foot of snow for much of central Minnesota (see below), while the NAM model is only predicting 3-5" for St. Cloud, and 2-3" of heavy, wet, slushy snow for the Twin Cities.

More colors = more weather headaches. Check out the dizzying weather menu of watches, warnings and advisories - blizzard warnings as far south as Mexico (!) The same storm that battered California will tap moisture from the Gulf of Mexico before turning north toward Minnesota, shoving a shield of ice, rain and snow into the state (in that approximate order) tonight through Sunday. Get ready for a very sloppy weekend, everything under the sun (except the sun). For the very latest NOAA warnings click here.

I'm leaning toward the (lesser) NAM solution, a few inches of snow Sunday into Monday morning during the last half of the storm, a significant percentage of precipitation falling as rain, freezing rain and sleet, keeping ultimate, final amounts down. A few stormy headlines that are top of mind:

1). The farther west you live in the great state of Minnesota the heavier the final snow amounts. I still think parts of far western Minnesota, from Windom to Wheaton to Detroit Lakes and Moorhead could wind up with 6-12" of snow by the time the flakes stop flying Monday.

2). Rain and ice. A southerly surge of unusually mild air aloft should switch snow/ice over to mostly rain much of Saturday over all of southern and central Minnesota. The only problem? Ground temperatures may still hold below freezing, causing rain to freeze on contact with cold surfaces: trees, powerlines and highways. A period of significant icing is very possible from southwestern Minnesota (where there is still 15-22" of snow on the ground) into parts of central Minnesota Saturday. The farther north/west you travel, away from St. Cloud on Saturday, the better the odds of running into some icy patches.

3). By Sunday most of the precipitation will fall as snow, and travel conditions will get progressively worse as the day goes on. I'm nervous about all those Viking playoff games scheduled for late Sunday. Getting to the party will be tough enough, getting home could be a real mess. Leave extra time to get around, especially Sunday PM hours.

4). Final snowfall tallies are very much up in the air, but one thing is inevitable & unavoidable: colder air will get sucked back into Minnesota on the backside of the storm; we'll all be shivering and complaining about the (%$&#*%@#!!) wind chill by the middle of next week. Our 30-degree party has a definite shelf-life, within 72 hours it will feel like an old fashioned Minnesota January.

5). Temperatures run a few degrees below average from Jan. 26-31, about 4-5 numbing days (but NOT as cold as early January was). Long-range models are hinting at more 20s and 30s by the first week of February, just in time for Groundhog Day!

A tale of two weather models. The GFS model is hinting at some 8-12"+ snowfall amounts by Monday over the northwestern half of Minnesota. The farther east the storm tracks, the less warm air will reach into central and southern Minnesota, meaning less rain/ice and more snow.

Reality check? The NAM model isn't nearly as impressive in terms of final snowfall amounts, suggesting a more westerly storm track, a longer, more widespread period of rain/ice that will keep final snowfall tallies lower. The NAM solution is hinting at 3-5" for St. Cloud, maybe 1-3" for the Twin Cities. I have a hunch the NAM will be closer to reality.

Current snow cover. I'm concerned about the 18-24" of snow on the ground over far southwestern Minnesota, south/west of the Minnesota River. The deeper the snow, the greater the "refrigerant" effect: the snow cooling the air from below. Where this becomes critical is when the air temperature is close to freezing. A heavy snow pack might favor keeping temperatures a few degrees cooler, favoring freezing rain vs. (liquid) rain. Roads may stay icy (longer) over far southwestern Minnesota Saturday, especially during the morning hours. The latest DNR information is here.

We'll get a (minor) break today, a little freezing drizzle leaking out of a slate-gray sky at times, but with temperatures in the upper 20s to near 30 major roads (certainly all the freeways) should be mostly-wet, the commute not too terrible out there. A surge of heavier precipitation arrives Friday night, and it may start as a mix of wet snow, sleet (ice pellets) and some freezing rain - changing over to rain during the day Saturday as temperatures edge past 32 F. south of a line from St. Cloud to Princeton, some mid 30s are possible from the Twin Cities to Rochester and Winona, keeping roads mostly-wet. If your Saturday travels take you to Brainerd, Wadena or even Willmar, the odds of running into patchy ice will increase the farther north & west you drive. You have been forewarned. At least by Sunday precipitation will be snow - and traction on snow is an order of magnitude more manageable than trying to slip and slide around on glaze ice.

It sounds like cheap, promotional hype (not above that, btw) but we scan 4 new computer runs/day. If the storm zigs farther west more warm air will get wrapped into the storm's circulation - we'll wind up with more rain, less snow. But if the storm zags 50-100 miles farther east, then the surge of warm air will be focused on southeastern MN and Wisconsin, keeping more of our precipitation falling as snow, and suddenly the (much snowier) GFS solution could wind up verifying. Insert deep sigh here. The bottom line: prepare for a very sloppy weekend. I'd recommend zipping out to the store, getting errands done today, because I have a hunch travel conditions will slowly deteriorate as the weekend goes on. Mostly rain & ice Saturday, turning over to mostly snow on Sunday as temperatures fall through the low 30s into the 20s. Best case scenario (for snow lovers): far western Minnesota gets plastered with a foot of snow. Worst case: the storm is strong enough (and far enough west) for warm air to reach western counties, keeping amounts in the 4-8" range by Monday morning.

Check back often, the one thing that seems certain: the forecast will change as the (final) storm track crystallizes. Looks like a good weekend to hibernate, maybe watch a little football Sunday? Be careful out there...

* Icy conditions for the U.S. Pond Hockey Championship today and Saturday, changing to mostly rain for a time Saturday, before changing back to snow Sunday. Leave extra time to get between events.

* St. Paul Winter Carnival: temperatures rise above 32 by 10 am Saturday, some melting of snow/ice sculptures is probably inevitable the first half of the weekend, but the mercury should drop below freezing again by the breakfast hour on Sunday morning. No problem next week as temperatures tumble through the 20s into the teens. Yes, Boreas will kick some serious butt next week.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Overcast (windy) with patchy fog, drizzle and freezing drizzle. Roads may be icy in the outlying suburbs. Winds: East 10-20, gusty. High: near 30

Tonight: Steadier winter mix moves in, wet snow, sleet and freezing rain. Very icy conditions possible, especially in the outlying suburbs. Low: 28

Saturday: Ice quickly changes over to mostly rain - freeways/major highways become wet, but roads from southwest through central counties may be very icy in spots. High: 35

Saturday night: Mostly rain, mixing with wet snow late. Low: 33

Sunday: A changeover to snow, potentially heavy at times - accumulating by PM hours. High: 33 (falling into the 20s by evening).

Monday: Light snow tapers to flurries, total accumulations of 2-4"+ possible (a half foot possible near St. Cloud, with some 8-14" amounts possible far western MN). High: 23

Tuesday: Sunshine reappears - much better travel conditions. High: 18

Wednesday: Subzero start, bright sun. High: 17

Thursday: Partly cloudy, a few degrees cooler than average. High: 16

Icy Update, Midday Thursday

Noon, Thursday Update

Where's the snow, Paul? Good question: the models weakened the latest frontal band (slightly), pushing back most of the light snow/freezing rain/freezing drizzle until tonight. As you can see on Doppler, most of the light precipitation (mixed, wintry precip) is north of the Twin Cities. Conditions will remain ripe for very light snow/ice through the morning hours on Friday, I don't think the PM commute will be terrible today, but the drive in tomorrow may be quiet a bit tougher than usual. Freezing drizzle/flurries taper off for a time during the day tomorrow before the main storm arrives this weekend.

Yuck. Advisories for glaze ice far southeastern Minnesota, dense ice fog southwestern counties, and a winter storm watch for much of the Red River Valley - we're surrounded by weather headaches! The risk of ice will increase into the nighttime hours tonight, the main surge of moisture arrives this weekend, rain, sleet, changing to mostly-snow by Sunday. Something for the entire family!

It still looks like a period of rain/freezing rain for most of central/eastern MN Saturday, changing over to mostly-snow Sunday, with a potential for a few inches of accumulation during the latter half of this storm - roads may be in fairly bad shape by late Sunday and Sunday night, with icy conditions spilling over into AM Rush on Monday. The changeover to rain/ice still looks fairly likely Saturday, the bulk of the precipitation holding off until late Saturday and Saturday night. The earlier you get your errands done Saturday, the better. Travel conditions Sunday will probably go downhill as the day goes on, as snow starts to stick, even on main roads and freeways (especially after sunset Sunday around 5:30 pm). The drive home, after a (victorious) NFL Championship game Sunday could be VERY, VERY TRICKY.

We'll keep you posted. Bottom line: we're still expecting some freezing rain/drizzle, mixed with a little wet snow, little more than a coating of slush - I'm more concerned about glaze ice with surface temperatures holding in the mid 20s. Allow extra time to get around town first thing Friday. A sloppy, almost March-like storm is still on the way for the weekend, starting as rain/freezing rain. If it were all snow we'd be looking at 4-6", maybe 10" for western Minnesota, but I think a significant amount of precipitation will fall as rain, keeping final snowfall amounts down quite a bit. Strange to be throwing around the R-word during the coldest week of winter, huh?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Weekend Outlook: 1-12"

Weather Headlines


* Nuisance snow event today, mixing with freezing drizzle - significant icing possible, around 1" of slush expected.

* Better travel conditions Friday.

* Main event arrives Saturday, mixing with rain and freezing rain (central/western MN).

* Changeover to snow Sunday, "plowable" snow still possible for central Minnesota, some 8-12"+ amounts possible over the western third of Minnesota by Monday.

* Huge west-east contrast in potential snowfall amounts: couple inches for the Twin Cities, potential for 3-6" St. Cloud, over 10" possible west of Willmar and Wadena.

* Turning colder next week, back into the teens as heavy coats/parkas return.

Hi, I'm Paul. I'll be your weather-server today. Here's a menu - I'll give you a few minutes to look it over. I should warn you you'll probably need a strong stomach to get through this. Take a deep breath. Deeper. The appetizer arrives today, about an inch of slushy snow, washed down with freezing drizzle, capable of a tasteless coating of ice capable of fender-benders and a few painful falls. Buyer beware.

Gray hairs for meteorologists. Hey, I'm happy to have any hair at this point in my life - color is optional, but you can see why we're nervous about the weekend storm. If the storm zigs or zags 75 miles farther west (or east) the ultimate snow amounts will change, possibly dramatically. Either way, the greatest potential for a foot or more of snow will be over far western and southwestern Minnesota.

An end to our weather-honeymoon. Here is predicted snowfall through early next week. The GFS model may be overdoing the amounts a bit (12-16" for far western Minnesota?) But the trends are probably correct, more west, less east - a huge contrast across the state. A forecast of 1-12" would likely get me admitted to the Happy Home for Wayward Weathermen. But in the case of our weekend storm, looking at the entire state, it's probably an "accurate" prediction!

Yesterday this same frontal zone sparked a severe ice event across Iowa (more than 1" of glaze ice in western Iowa, near Storm Lake, Cherokee and Dennison). There is absolutely, positively nothing worse than glare ice. Four-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, nothing short of a Sherman tank will get you around town (safely) when there is severe icing. It's especially insidious: you look out the window and it looks like plain old rain. But step outside (and expect to wind up in a horizontal position - against your will). Again, falls on ice trigger nearly as many emergency room visits every year as traffic accidents, which is hard to fathom. That's what seniors are terrified of (among other things). It's not snow, but ice, and the risk of falling, breaking a hip, winding up in the hospital, contracting an infection.... I'll stop now, but you get the picture. Bottom line: in spite of a (lousy) inch or so of actual snow today the ice component may result in commute times double, even triple average. Leave PLENTY of extra time to get around town today.

Computer forecast for noon Saturday. The center of the storm is predicted to be over northern Iowa, the rain/snow line draped right over central Minnesota - mostly rain for the Twin Cities, a rain/snow mix for St. Cloud, mostly snow for far western Minnesota (where the heaviest snow amounts are expected from our weekend storm, possibly a foot or more by Monday).

We come up for air tomorrow as precipitation tapers to flurries, even a little freezing drizzle, but I expect roads to be a slightly better shape, highs in the upper 20s to near 30, most freeways and major highways (that have been treated by MnDOT) just wet/slushy, as opposed to icy. Take advantage of a brief lull in the storm to stock up on, well, whatever needs stocking up on, because the weather will progressively go downhill over the weekend. This seems likely: travel conditions will get worse as the weekend wears on - a period of rain on Saturday (yes RAIN during the coldest week of winter, on average) will mean mainly wet roads, but some icing is still possible on secondary roads and side streets, especially west of St. Cloud and Hutchinson. As a soggy, southern storm tracks directly over Minnesota Sunday the atmosphere will cool, mixed precipitation changing back over to mostly snow, and it should start to accumulate by the PM hours Sunday. The drive to that Vikes game could be a bit precarious, temperatures dipping below 30, previously wet roads becoming snow-covered, especially after dark (around 5:30 pm or so). The models go back and forth on snow amounts, the latest GFS computer forecast is a bit more aggressive/impressive when it comes to snow amounts, especially across the western third of Minnesota, where a cool foot of snow can't be ruled out by Monday. It looks like a MAJOR contrast in snow from west to east: over a foot west of Willmar and Wadena, 10-15" amounts possible from Windom to Alexandria to Detroit Lakes, maybe 3-6" in St. Cloud, while the Twin Cities will be lucky to see 1-3" of snow late Sunday into Monday morning. The main surge of dry air wrapping into the storm (the dreaded "dry tongue") now looks like it may sweep into Wisconsin, not eastern Minnesota. My confidence level is still low, the weekend forecast still has "high bust potential" (meaning there is a LOT that can go wrong with this forecast), but I feel reasonably confident about a few things:

1). About 1" of slush today, mixed with ice.

2). Period of rain/ice Saturday, which will keep amounts down over central and southeastern MN. Far western Minnesota may see mostly snow Saturday and Sunday, and that's why there's a potential for a cool foot of snow to pile up west of Willmar.

3). Changeover to mostly snow Sunday, from west to east, travel conditions getting worse as the day goes on.

4). Light snow lingering into Monday - travel conditions still very poor as we star the work week.

5). Turning much colder next week, highs stuck in the teens by Tuesday/Wednesday.

Stay tuned - four new computer runs come in every day (joy). Each new run may have a new solution on the ultimate storm track. A jog of 75 miles farther west or east could make the difference between 2" and 10" in this kind of a pattern. If a changeover to rain does NOT happen we could be looking at a very, large pile of snow, especially central Minnesota. That's possible, but still unlikely, the odds less than 30% Then again, when it comes to Minnesota weather, everything that can go wrong WILL go wrong, usually at the worst possible time, for example, during an NFC Championship Football Game featuring our amazing Vikings.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Light snow likely, mixing with a little freezing drizzle. Around 1" of accumulation possible. Winds: east 10-15. High: 28

Tonight: Light snow tapers to flurries. Low: 24

Friday: Overcast, a few more flurries - better travel. High: near 30

Saturday: Mostly rain, freezing on contact with some surfaces outside the metro. High: 35

Sunday: Changeover to snow, travel conditions getting worse as the day goes on. High: 32 (falling)

Monday: Light snow, total accumulations from the storm may go over 2-4", considerably more over central Minnesota. Far western MN could pick up over 10" of snow by Monday. High: near 20

Tuesday: Partly sunny, much better travel conditions. High: 17

Wednesday: Sunny start, clouds increase, few degrees cooler than average. High: 18

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A taste of March in January

The rumors are true: the weather honeymoon is drawing to a close; Minnesota's weather will become stormier, travel more problematic as the week goes on. As is often the case, Mother Nature is about to throw us a curve. In spite of the St. Paul Winter Carnival kicking off the 10 coldest days of the year (on average) an unusually strong storm - tracking unusually far south and west of Minnesota - will pull enough warm air north for a period of rain and freezing rain (rain freezing into glaze ice on contact with cold surfaces) by Friday night and Saturday. Snow lovers are indignant, as well they should be: if this were a typical January with highs in the teens (north) and low 20s (south) we'd be looking at 12-16"+ of snow by Monday of next week. So close, and yet so far.

Icy possibilities. What month is this again? The maps look more like early March than mid January. An inch or two of slush is possible tomorrow, but the main event arrives this weekend, the atmosphere aloft just mild enough for snowflakes to melt into raindrops, potentially freezing on contact with cold surface. The best chance of icy headaches? Saturday morning (early). Again: Saturday night.

Potential for a "plowable snow"?
The GFS model is still hinting at 3-6" of snow Sunday into Monday, but precipitation Saturday should fall as a mix of snow, sleet, even some freezing rain (glaze ice) across central Minnesota. I still believe St. Cloud will pick up more snow than the Twin Cities, where more precipitation will fall as rain/freezing rain. Stay tuned for snowfall updates, but right now I'm leaning toward 3-5" for the St. Cloud area Saturday night into Monday morning. (For the record: I don' think the Twin Cities will see 6" of snow from this system, too much rain wrapping into the storm - I'm thinking more like 2-4" for Minneapolis & St. Paul by Monday).

Strange trends for the coldest week of winter. Check out the predicted temperature trend (top chart) showing temperatures at, even above freezing into the weekend. The bottom chart shows predicted snowfall amounts, spiking upward by Sunday/Monday as colder air filters back into the storm's circulation. In short: expect a king-size MESS this weekend!

Tuesday afternoon tornado warnings were issued for south central Los Angeles. No typo there - that's how violent and energetic the latest Pacific storm is, sweeping inland with torrential rains, hail and high water. One wrinkle of moisture and energy ejecting northeastward from the Four Corners region of the Desert Southwest will spark a little snow/sleet mix Wednesday night into Thursday, models still hinting at 1/2 to 2" of slushy/icy snow across much of Minnesota tomorrow. Give yourself some extra time to get around town, I expect commute times to be double, even triple normal, air temperatures holding in the mid/upper 20s, meaning potentially snow-covered secondary roads, let's hope treated major highways/freeways are mostly wet and slushy. Friday should be a better travel day, in-between storm systems, as we wait for the Main Event.

Guess the storm track! The heaviest snow is almost always 100-300 miles north/west of the actual storm track. Parts of the Dakotas may pick up 8-12"+ snow from the weekend storm, but a jog to the northwest may pull enough mild air northward for a changeover to sleet/rain/ice on Saturday, keeping amounts down, especially south/east of St. Cloud.

Anatomy of a slop-storm. By Saturday evening at 6 pm the storm is forecast to be stuck over southeastern South Dakota, moisture from the Gulf of Mexico pin-wheeling into Minnesota. This projected track would be far enough south/west of us for warm air to wrap completely around the storm circulation, triggering a mixed-bag of snow, ice, even a few hours of rain Saturday. Most of the accumulating snow should come Sunday into Monday morning, as the storm pushes east, toward the Great Lakes, and the entire column of the atmosphere begins to cool down.

The storm now slamming into California with gale force winds, mudslides and raging fits of thunder and lightning will cross the Rockies, gulping down vast quantities of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico late in the week, before turning almost due north over the weekend, pushing a shield of "precipitation" into Minnesota Friday night and Saturday. Notice I said precipitation, a wonderfully vague word, which could mean almost anything under the sun, except for the sun. To get all snow temperatures (usually) have to be colder than 32 throughout the lowest mile or so of the atmosphere. Even a thin layer of air > 32 F. can turn falling snowflakes into rain, dashing the hopes and expectations of snow-lovers stuck on the ground far below. A perfect storm track for snow runs from Kansas City and Des Moines to near La Crosse and Eau Claire, keeping Minnesota on the colder, northern side of the storm track. But this area of low pressure shows signs of "hooking" to the northwest, pushing into South Dakota (!) That, in turn, will probably yank enough mild air north for a significant period of sleet (ice pellets), changing to freezing rain (glaze ice) then finally over to plain-old-liquid-rain during the day Saturday, turning our snow to slush and mush (as I feared more than a week ago). As the storm does a big loop and finally tracks due east, then northeast across Wisconsin, toward the Great Lakes, a changeover back to mostly-snow is likely Sunday, finally tapering Monday. By then there may be 1-3" of new snow on the ground for southeastern MN, but a band of 3-6" is still very possible across central Minnesota (including St. Cloud), probably less near the Twin Cities - more like 2-3" - possibly 4" far northern and western suburbs.

The St. Paul (Messy) Carnival. Look at the bright side: no 40s or 50s this year. St. Paul may pick up an inch of sloppy snow Thursday, but rain may put a temporary damper on the fun Saturday, what may be the messiest day of the 10 day adventure. Temperatures cool back down into the 20s most of next week; the snow & ice sculptures should be in better shape by then.

We've been living on borrowed time in the temperature department, readings a good 10-15 degrees above average. The GFS model is now (strongly) suggesting a return to much colder weather next week (teens north, 20s south); an even colder push for the first few days of February, some single digits highs up north, maybe a week's worth of subzero lows for much of the state. I don't think it'll be as brutal as early January, but it will definitely get your attention. Our midwinter intermission was nice while it lasted, a welcome, nearly 2 week reprieve from the coldest, most controversial winds of winter. Old Man Winter got a "time out", but nights are (still) long, there's still a lot of snow lurking to our north - at some point the laws of physics kick in and the Yukon Express starts to roll once more. Give it about a week to 10 days, there will be no doubt in your mind that spring is NOT right around the corner.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Mostly cloudy - hanging onto good travel conditions. Winds: E 10-15. High: 27

Tonight: Chance of a little light snow, freezing drizzle. Low: 22

Thursday: Light snow, mixed with freezing drizzle at times, a slushy, slippery, icy inch possible. High: 28

Friday: Temporarily improving conditions - overcast, damp and gray. High: 30

Saturday: Wintry mix changes to mostly rain - very slippery/icy outside of town. High: 34

Sunday: Changeover back to mostly snow, starts to accumulate. Potential for 2-4" or more of snow by Sunday night. High: 31

Monday: Light snow quickly tapers to flurries, slowly improving travel conditions, turning colder. High: 20

Tuesday: Partly sunny and chilly, a few degrees cooler than average. High: 18

Wednesday: Yep, feels like a real January again. Intervals of sun, delightfully numb. High: 15