If You Want a Big Spring Blizzard…


In order for us to get socked by a blizzard this spring, the pattern will need to change.  At present, the Polar Jet Stream is too weak and to far north to be a threat.  The far more active Subtropical Jet Stream could shift northward and bring snow, but a real blizzard would not be likely from such a set up.  The few near-blizzards we have had this winter have been brief rounds of blowing snow in the open areas of the Red River Valley.  And with limited snow cover and very little falling snow, conditions have been marginal at best as blizzards go.  Serious Great Plains blizzards are born along a fast and active Polar Jet Stream.  Some ripple in the wind field out over the Pacific Ocean grows into a full-fledged kink in the Jet Stream.  As it crosses the Rocky Mountains, the differences within the system widen and the low pressure deepens.  As the system closes into a circle throughout the lower and middle atmosphere, fierce winds and heavy snows develop and woe is he who gets in the way.   Meteorologist John Wheeler


Will Snow-Free Stay Snow-Free?

Is a winter that is largely snow-free more likely or less likely to have a big snow at some point near its end?   Interestingly enough, two of our region’s biggest storms in history were largely stand-alone storms.  Arguable the strongest winter storm to hit anywhere in the United States hit our region in early March of 1966.  For four days the storm hammered us with 35-70 mph winds and 1-3 feet of snow.  The winter, up to that point, had been very cold but with just enough snow to have kept the ground white.  The great “Super Bowl” blizzard of 1975, another four-day whiteout famous for causing a huge power outage when the Minnesota Vikings were playing in the Super Bowl, happened in January of a largely snow-less winter.  Although there was more snow than this winter, the snow cover was scant enough to allow the four-day storm to scour down to the topsoil which caused more of a brown-out than the traditional blizzard whiteout.      Meteorologist John Wheeler

Earliest Snow, Earliest Cold

On September 25, 1912, it snowed in Fargo Moorhead.  The summer of 1912 had been hot and very dry and the heat wave had continued into the early part of September.  Three of the first eight days in September were in the 90s.  But it began to rain September 12.  It rained on 12 of the next 14 days.  During this time, the weather turned remarkably cooler.  Daily high temperatures dropped into the 50s starting September 14.  There was a light frost on September 16.  On September 24 and 25, a steady rain accumulated to more than one inch with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees.  And late on September 25, the cold rain turned to snow, accumulating two inches on the ground during the night.  It remains the earliest measurable snow in Fargo Moorhead recorded history.

On September 26, 1965, it was 19 degrees in Fargo Moorhead.  The month of September, 1965, had been cool from the start.  It had been that cloudy, cool, dank weather that sometimes settles in during the fall for long periods.  Most days were in the 50s.  Frost had not happened due to the perpetually cloudy weather.  But on September 24, the sky cleared but it only warmed to 62 degrees.  That night, it turned unusually cold.  By midnight, the temperature had reached 29 degrees, and by morning it was 22.  The following day, September 25, it remained sunny but the high was just 55 degrees.  The following morning, the temperature bottomed out at 19 degrees.  This remains the earliest temperature in the teens in Fargo Moorhead weather history. The next three days, the clouds returned and highs were only in the 40s, but there was no more frost until early October.  The winter of 1965-66 was bitterly cold but is most famous for the terrible blizzard of March, 1966, considered by most climatologists to have been the strongest blizzard of the 20th Century on the Great Plains.

Meteorologist John Wheeler


90 Years Ago

It was 90 years ago today that one of the worst blizzards in modern times was moving through the region.  It started as a weak Alberta Clipper that moved along the Rocky Mountains, reformed in Colorado and moved northeast into Minnesota.  The blizzard started late in the day on February 12, and was at peak intensity in this area the next day.  Although Fargo had a recorded snow depth of 7 inches, many other areas nearby had little to no snow cover.

The fierce wind in excess of 50 mph picked up dirt and mixed it in with the snow.  The storm became known as the “Black Dust Blizzard” because of the black snow (snirt) that was spread well east into Minnesota and Wisconsin from the exposed soils in North Dakota.

Sadly, at least 20 deaths were blamed on the blizzard just in this area alone.  Most died of exposure caught off guard by the rapidly changing conditions and bitterly cold temperatures that moved in with the storm.

This is one of many storms I will be talking about in my communiversity course coming up in March (the first three Sunday’s of the month) when I take a look at the significant weather events to impact this area.  Here is a link for information on my course:

http:// www.fmcommuniversity.org/


The strong wind that accompanied the arctic cold front that moved through the area on Saturday, not only brought cold and blowing snow, but also a layer of snirt.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, snirt is a mixture of dirt and snow.

The lack of snow cover in the area has left many of the fields partially exposed.  That allowed the strong wind on Saturday to pick up some dirt that mixed in with the blowing snow.  Although not all areas have a noticeable brown hue to the snow, but the areas that do, it is most noticeable on the tops of the drifts. The past two decades have recorded so many snowy winters that snirt is a word that has not been used much, but historically dirty snow was much more common.

The famed “Super Bowl Blizzard” of 1975 that crippled much of Minnesota did not drop much snow locally, but the wind was so fierce that houses were covered in so much snirt that in North Dakota it was referenced as the “Black Blizzard”.

15 Years Ago

It is hard to believe that fifteen years have passed by since the “Flood of the Century” in April 1997.  That flood was preceded by what was arguably the most significant blizzard to strike the state of North Dakota since the infamous blizzard in March 1966.  Although the storm impacted Minnesota, the affects were felt the strongest in both North and South Dakota.

The Red River and tributaries over the southern basin were all rising rapidly in early April 1997 as warm temperatures in late March melted the heavy snow pack.  During the first week of April, overland flooding was spreading quickly and Fargo Moorhead was beginning to be surrounded by water.  Then for three days, April 5-7,  two to three inches of rain, freezing rain and finally heavy snow fell on the region wrecking havoc at the same time so many were desperately trying to sandbag.

The blizzard had wind in excess of 50 mph and destroyed hundreds of electric poles leaving many without power for a week or more; yet, our problems that month had only begun.

An April Blizzard

Although this year was definitely an exception with a record breaking March, it is usually April that we can start thinking about spring weather.  The average high temperature climbs from 46 to 64 degrees during the month.  Our thoughts may be on spring, but winter is always just a storm away this time of year.

Strong temperature contrasts fromCanadato the southernUnited States makes storms this time of year common and at our latitude these storms can easily be snow events.  Most of you are likely familiar with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book “The Long Winter”, which describes the horrible winter of 1880-1881 her family lived through in De Smet,South Dakota.

The following winter of 1881-1882 is described in her next book “Little Town of the Prairie” and was written as being generally pleasant with little snow.  Yet, with spring in the air, a fierce blizzard struck that area in April.  Pa Ingalls found it a bit odd that the only blizzard of the winter came in April, yet, I doubt he was surprised as in this climate no seasoned residents finds any weather event in this area unusual.

A Year Ago

A year ago the area was bracing for what looked like to be back to back blizzards.  The two storms, one on December 30 and the other on December 31 kept most of the areas roads closed over the New Year holiday and made travel hazardous even within Fargo Moorhead.

The first storm started off with freezing rain putting down a layer of ice before the wind and the snow started later in the morning.  Wind gusts well above 40 mph reduced visibility to just a few feet at times.  The following day, December 31, allowed a few hours of digging out before the second storm arrived that afternoon.

Although, not technically a blizzard in the southern valley, the wind still gusted frequently over 30 mph making going out for New Year’s Eve nearly impossible.  In the end, 10 inches of new snow fell with those two storms, making the start of 2011 a miserable one for most.

It Started Today

Fifteen years ago today, the first blizzard of what was arguably the worst winter on record locally, struck the Red River Valley.  The snow arrived during the early afternoon, which was a Saturday in 1996. The snow and wind forced Hector Airport to close quickly that afternoon and both I-29 and I-94 were both closed at 10 pm.

A total of five inches had accumulated by midnight, but it continued to snow the rest of the night and into the following morning.  The wind gusted to over 40 mph at times during the event and did not settle down enough to reopen the main roads until late the following day.  In total, 13.5 inches fell, not including 2 inches that fell the day before the storm, with drifts 3-4 feet high.

The winter of 1996-1997 brought a total of 8 blizzards to Fargo Moorhead, with other parts of the area recording as many as10 blizzards that winter.

“The Storm of the Century”

Last week was the anniversary to many famous blizzards that have struck the Great Plains in the past 150 years.  These include the ?Pioneer Blizzard? of January 10, 1873, the Children?s Blizzard of January 12, 1888, and more recently an unnamed 3 day blizzard from January 9-11 in 1997.

A blizzard I remember very well that occurred in the middle of January was the so-called ?Storm of the Century? that peaked around January 10, 1975.  That storm dumped over 20 inches of snow with wind gusts reported over 70 mph in parts of Minnesota.  Locally, we received 6 inches of snow from that blizzard.

That particular storm caused many Minnesotans to miss the Vikings play in the Super Bowl that year because of power outages and therefore the storm is sometimes referred to as the ?Super Bowl Blizzard?.  My family was fortunate enough to have power that weekend which meant I watched the Vikings play as poorly as the weather was outside against the Pittsburgh Steelers.