Friday, November 13, 2009

Remembering the Ultimate November Blizzard

The Snow was THIS high! We survived Friday, the 13th. Yes, we're getting off to a damp, chilling start to our Saturday, but it could be worse - much worse. 69 years ago today we were still digging out from the Great Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940. The storm put down a 1,000 mile wide carpet of heavy snow from Kansas to Minnesota and Michigan. Winds gusted close to hurricane force, heavy, windswept rain changing to ice, then snow, with whiteout conditions for over 24 hours. The mercury started out mild on November 11, reaching into the 60s across southeastern Minnesota. Thousands of duck hunters left the house, hearing a forecast that called for "falling temperatures, showers ending as flurries." It turned out to be lot's and lot's of flurries, 16" piled up in the Twin Cities, but 27" suffocated Collegeville, with 5-10 foot drifts commonplace. The storm knocked out power (and phone lines) and area highways turned into an auto-mangled mess. Travel was impossible, the mercury dropping more than 50 degrees in less than 24 hours across most of Minnesota. Duck hunters left the house in shirtsleeves and soon found themselves shivering uncontrollably, trying to find shelter against the horizontal snow and subzero wind chills. Many found themselves trapped on islands in the Mississippi, the waves too large to reach shore. A total of 49 Minnesotans lost their lives, half of them hunters. In the town of Watkins, MN 2 people died when trains collided, unable to see each other in the blinding snow. It took weeks for Minnesota to dig out, the storm indelibly etched in the minds of survivors. According to the MN State Climatology Office the Armistice Day Blizzard ranked #2 on the Top 5 Weather Events of the 20th Century - truly a storm for the ages.

Excelsior Boulevard in St. Louis Park, aftermath of the Armistice Day Blizzard. One big problem with the storm: there was no place to push the snow. Ever since this specific blizzard MnDOT has elevated Minnesota's major roads, to give the snow someplace to go! Next time you're zipping down a state highway (or freeway) you'll notice that the road elevation is significantly higher than the surrounding ditches. It may seem like common sense (today) but it took an epic blizzard to change the way we design and build our highways.

Surface Map from November 11, 1940. An unusually intense area of low pressure tracked across Iowa into Wisconsin. Ahead of the storm, mild southeasterly winds with temperatures (temporarily) pushing into the 60s - on the backside of the storm a tight pressure gradient (strong contrast in barometric pressure) whipped up wind gusts as high as 80 mph, producing blizzard and whiteout conditions statewide, whipping the flakes into 5-10 foot drifts.

An eastbound cool front will squeeze a little more rain from a slate-gray sky this morning, but a drying west/northwest wind should punch a few holes in a stale slab of stratocumulus clouds by afternoon, skies brightening (a little) as the day goes on. As high pressure builds in from the west I expect more sun on Sunday, highs well up into the 40s to near 50 across southern Minnesota. I still don't see any arctic fronts, no accumulating snow, no ice or traumatizing wind chill anytime soon (at least through the end of next week). Highs will reach the 40s each day, at least 5-10 degrees above average for mid November. Models are still hinting at a colder surge of air arriving immediately after Thanksgiving, but I don't see any monster-storms between now and Turkey Day. Rain? That's another story. The best chance of puddles will come Thursday and Friday of next week (the atmosphere warm enough statewide for plain old rain). We may see a brief respite from precipitation next Saturday (Nov. 21) but the GFS model is suggesting a rain/snow mix on Sunday, the 22nd, followed by significantly colder air the week of Thanksgiving. That said, temperatures won't be nanook - no arctic air (yet), but highs may be stuck in the 30s to near 40 the week of Thanksgiving, much closer to average. Yes, the honeymoon won't last forever, but I'm enjoying this respite from the wicked winds of winter....hope you are too.

A Week's Worth of Rain. Check out the impressive rainfall amounts leftover from "Ida" stretching from Alabama into the Carolinas and Virginia - 4-8" amounts commonplace. After a soggy October November is starting out mild and unusually dry. As of Friday morning only .16" of rain had fallen on St. Cloud since November 1, about .56" less than average to date.

The United (Record-Breaking) States of America. Since January 1, 2000 NOAA reports 142, 420 record highs across the nation. During this same, nearly 10-year period, a total of 291, 237 record highs were reported, many west of the Mississippi. Now this is a head-scratcher. Climate change deniers are emphatic that temperatures have "leveled off" during the last decade after peaking in 1998 (an especially warm El Nino year that has the distinction of being the warmest year ever recorded). But if that's the case what explains the apparent spike in record highs? If temperatures weren't still creeping upward, if there was truly no climate change involved, you'd expect the number of record highs to be comparable to the number of record lows - there would be a state of equilibrium, right? Am I missing something here. These observations were taken at 1,800 daily reporting weather stations around the USA and the data seems pretty sound to me. For more check out details at by clicking here.

Speaking of Records. Check out a DAY'S worth of record from coast to coast. Record rainfall for North Carolina and Virginia, and dozens and dozens of records for the warmest daily low temperatures on record from Arizona to Minnesota. To get specifics for each record on a (very cool) interactive map click here.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Damp start with a little drizzle, few sprinkles. More clouds than sun this afternoon. Winds: W/NW 10-15. High: 45

Tonight: Partly cloudy and chilly. Low: 30

Sunday: Plenty of sun, cool and pleasant. High: near 50

Monday: Lot's of sun, milder than average. High: 51

Tuesday: Still dry, unusually sunny for November. High: 50

Wednesday: Clouds slowly increase, light rain possible late. High: 48

Thursday: Periods of light rain likely. High: 45

Friday: Mostly cloudy, cool & damp, showery rains linger. High: 44

Saturday (Nov. 21). Some sun, probably the drier, nicer day of the weekend. High: 46

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