Ice Storm/Blizzard

   It began raining in Fargo around mid-afternoon, Sunday, November 28th. It kept raining until early Monday morning when the precipitation changed to sleet. It sleeted most of Monday before changing to snow around 4 PM. Most of Monday and Monday night, the wind was around 30-40 mph with gusts even higher.  (Precise measurements were not possible due to the anemometers freezing up in the rain earlier!) Blizzard conditions produced zero visibility in open country from late-afternoon Monday through most of Monday night.  Total precipitation was 0.99" melted but only 4.2" of snow.

   The blizzard part of the storm (Monday afternoon and night) would have been worse had more of the precipitation fallen as snow. On the other hand, all that freezing rain left a thick glaze on area roads which, combined with the zero-visibility of the blizzard, made travel essentially impossible.

   All in all, I think this storm was handled reasonably well by the WDAY meteorologists as well as the National Weather Service.  On Friday, my forecast called for clouds Sunday and light snow and wind Monday. (I mentioned heavier snow for the Twin Cities.  The National Weather Service was essentially the same.  On Saturday, Joe Goldade called for snow Sunday afternoon into Monday with possible heavy snow. The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Watch on Saturday for Sunday afternoon and Monday.

   What we missed was the layer of warm air that caused all the freezing rain and sleet. To be fair, such layers are difficult to detect and predict. Nonetheless, it was the aspect of this storm that we all missed early on.

   By Sunday, the freezing rain threat was more obvious. It was also obvious that the wind would be fierce Monday. The focus of the forecast problem now shifted to how much snow would fall. This was made difficult by the freezing rain. The longer it rained, the less snow would fall. the National Weather Service went ahead and issued a Winter Storm Warning on Sunday.

   By Monday morning, rain was turning to sleet as colder air rushed into the system by a strong and gusty north wind. Heavy snow was falling in South Dakota. Daryl Ritchison told viewers on FirstNews that snow amounts would vary greatly due to the sleet, but that a Blizzard Warning was likely by afternoon no matter how much snow fell due to the increasing wind.  He was right. The National Weather Service issueed a Blizzard Warning later in the morning.

   Major winter storm forecasts are usually a dynamic. It isn’t easy to forecast them correctly, especially when sleet and freezing rain are part of the mix. Considering it all, I think this storm was reasonably well handled by WDAY and the National Weather Service. The two biggest errors were WDAY missing the freezing rain on our Saturday forecast (We recognized that rain would fall nearby but didn’t catch the freezing rain potential.) and the National Weather Service forecasting too much snow on Monday (6-12 inches and we got a little more than four (4.2")).

   In the end, anyone keeping up with the news should have been aware that a viscious storm was coming and they should have had time to change their plans and stay safe.

SIX PIX FOR 11/20/05

SIX PIX FOR 11/20/05

From: Hazel Houkom
taken November 1st, 2005

Hazel found this beautiful, (and quite tall) Easter Lily in her yard this fall. The lily itself measured in at a height of 51"! (that’s 4 feet 3 inches tall!) Good thing she didn’t have an entire group of them growing – as I imagine it would be easy to get lost in them… :)

Thanks for the great picture!
Check back every week for the latest Six Pix Picture!

Send in your picture to:
C/O WDAY Television
Box 2466
Fargo, N.D. 58108

Snow Cover

One of the things I love to do the day after a snowfall, which works best in the autumn when snow cover comes and goes, is to look at a visible satellite image the day after a snow event and see the storm path. (OK, that’s why I work in weather I guess, I’m weird that way) Today there were patches of clouds in the region, so today isn’t a perfect example, but here is a satellite image taken over the region this morning around 10:15 am.

Much of the "white" you’re seeing in northeastern North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska is actually the sun reflecting off the fresh snow cover in those areas. Below is an image where I added some references:

One thing you will notice is that the snow line runs right through Fargo/Moorhead. The Red River served as the dividing line between the snow yesterday and areas that didn’t get snow. It took nearly 90 minutes for the snow to move the short distance from West Fargo to Dilworth on Tuesday. If you live in the western part of Fargo/Moorhead, you may have been surprised to hear that it snowed 1.6" yesterday. Well, it did at the official measuring spot in North Moorhead, but no, it didn’t snow hardly at all just west of West Fargo and much of West Fargo and the city of Fargo had just 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch, but Moorhead had the 1.6" and just east of Moorhead many locations had 2 to 3" of snow, so 15 or 20 miles made a huge difference yesterday (and with many snow events).

Anyway, enjoy the snow, as it will be melting soon, but we all know it will be coming back to stay (with a few exceptions over the years).

First Fargo Snow

   It was a lot more wind than snow… but Fargo’s first snowfall of the 2005-2006 winter season has finally arrived.  I’ve heard so many comments lately about how the snow has arrived soooooo late this year.  That’s not really a good assessment.

   It’s November 15th and that’s pretty average for a first snow. True, we do get snow in October about once every three years, and once in a great while we’ll even get a light snow in late September. But it is quite common for our first measureable snow to not arrive until the middle of November.  In fact, in our record snowfall winter of 1996-97, the first snow was on November 15th. And we got 117 inches that year!

   Two factors made our first snowfall seem late this year.  First of all, most of October and early November, we’ve been enjoying above-average temperatures.  Also, the northwestern half of North Dakota got smacked by a tough snowstorm back in the first week of October and for five weeks, we in the Fargo area have been waiting and waiting.

  But today, the wait is over. Even if it was only 1.6". But there’ll be more.

Six Pix for 11/13/05

SIX PIX FOR 11/13/05
Death Valley Snow
From: Jay Manley
Fargo, N.D.

What a great, once in a lifetime opportunity this must’ve been for Jay Manley as it hardly EVER snows in Death Valley. In fact, Death Valley will typically get measurable snow once in every 10 years. Jay had a great story to go along with this picture as well:

I took the attached photo on
February 23rd, 2004 when driving from the LA area, through Death
Valley, to Las
all in one long day. This picture is at the
Western entrance to Death Valley on Hwy 190.
The picture was taken at approx. 11am. Distance from Fargo is approx. 1800
driving miles.

We had left early from Bakersfield, CA (approx.
5am) and drove through the Sequoia National
in the dark. The road was nearly blocked in
spots with boulders due to heavy rains. After clearing the pass there, and
seeing a light dusting of snow, we chuckled that we’d likely not see snow again
until we got home. It rained on and off all day, but conditions weren’t too
bad. When we turned off on Hwy 190 and started climbing to the pass on the West
entrance to Death Valley, it started snowing,
but was pretty much melting when it hit the ground.

Then, suddenly in the last 5 miles
to Death Valley, we started climbing rapidly
and as we climbed, the snow started to come down in a more serious fashion.
When we came to the peak, the snow was starting to build on the ground. On the
East side of the peak, the snow was coming down so heavily that the road was
covered and we could see just one set of tracks through the snow besides our
own. When we got to the sign, we both started laughing. Here we were, two guys
from Fargo, ND
at Death Valley in the middle of a very rare
event for the area, a major snow storm.

Thanks for the great picture!
Check back every week for the latest Six Pix Picture!

The 1940 Armistice Day Blizzard

Growing up in Minnesota during the 1960s and 1970s, every Veteran’s Day, my Dad would remind me of the "Armistice Day" blizzard back in 1940. Almost everyone that was old enough to remember that storm can tell you exactly where they were when the "wind hit". The autumn of 1940, like the autumn of 2005 was a warm one. Temperatures in some parts of Minnesota were in the 60s that day. So warm, in fact, that many hunters went out that mild holiday day in shirtsleeves. The forecast called for colder weather to move in with some flurries.

An area of low-pressure had hit the Pacfic northwest coast a couple of days earlier with near hurricane force wind. It tracked over the Rocky Mountains into the great plains where it picked up moisture and "bombed out", a phrase used by meteorologists to describe a rapidly intensifying low-pressure system. The storm’s barometric pressure dropped down to nearly 29 inches of mercury as it moved into Wisconsin. Minnesota and eastern North and South Dakota were on the back-side of the storm experiencing wind gusting to 70 mph.

The switch from a light south wind and temperatures in the 60s to temperatures in the upper 20s and low 30s with a northwest wind gusting to 70 mph caught many hunters and other people outdoors off guard. Many duck hunters could not get their boats to safety as the waves on area lakes swelled as the strong wind made boat travel nearly impossible. In total, 49 Minnesotans, mostly duck hunters, lost their lives that day. Nationwide, over 150 perished including 66 sailors on Lake Michigan as three freighters and two smaller boats sank.

By the time the storm tapered off on the 12th,
the Twin Cities had received 16.7 inches of snow, Collegeville (near St. Cloud) 26.6
inches, and 20-foot drifts were reported near Willmar. In the Red River Valley, only around 1" of snow fell, so like the Halloween Blizzard of 1991, the Red River Valley may not have received the most snow, but it did experience blizzard conditions as even the lighter snow amounts were whipped around by the very strong wind.

The Armistice Day Blizzard Ranks #2 on the Minnesota State Climatology Office Top five weather events of the 20th century. The #1 weather event is considered the "dust bowl" of the 1930s. The good news for us, near record high temperatures today, without a blizzard coming, well, at least not today. 😉

The Big Lake They Called ‘Gitche Gumee’

Today marks the 30th Anniversary of the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior. A great link (although written sometime ago) to the meteorology of the storm that day can be found here:

Of note, a very similiar storm (fortunately no ships were lost this time) occurred back in the year 2000 on this very day.

Gordon Lightfoot’s song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" written back in 1976 as a tribute to the men that died that day keeps the memory alive. I left the lyrics to that song below:

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called ‘Gitche Gumee’
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty.
That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early.

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship’s bell rang
Could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too,
T’was the witch of November come stealin’.
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the Gales of November came slashin’.
When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind.

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin’.
Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya.
At Seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in, he said
Fellas, it’s been good t’know ya
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when his lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searches all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her.
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
May have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams;
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the Gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the Maritime Sailors Cathedral.
The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee;
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early!