Better than average Memorial Day Weekend

O.K. The pressure’s on. My blood pressure is elevated, I’m wiping flop-sweat off my brow, I have an urge to run (not walk) to the window every 5 minutes to make sure my forecast isn’t “busting”. To be honest, that’s how one learns the painful art of weather forecasting: through trial and error. Mostly error. My father once asked if I really learned anything earth-shattering or useful about meteorology in college. The truth? No. I learned how to solve problems, how to work with other people in a team, a few of the classes juiced my intrigue with Mother Nature. But in all things weather there is — sadly — no substitute for on-the-job training. You make a forecast, based on computer models and gut feel. And then you run to the window every few minutes to see if the sky is cooperating. You make mistakes, often referred to as “busts” among would-be weather forecasters. The theory: if you make enough mistakes you slowly, painfully, begin to learn some valuable lessons. You learn by DOING, not reading out of a textbook. Believe me when I tell you that it’s a painful learning curve. Stock brokers may have a few dozen clients; when they’re wrong about a stock pick the entire community isn’t aware that they goofed. But meteorologists? We lay it on the line, we publicize our forecasts, and our inevitable goofs, hoping we’ll be close to the mark more times than we’re wrong. The reality: as a profession the accuracy of the 1 Day “Tomorrow” forecast is about 87% nationwide. I guess it’s human nature for the public to remember the 13% of the time we blow it, especially if it’s on a summer weekend, a major holiday, or the Fishing Opener. Minnesotans have long memories, and the weather guy (or gal) is a convenient target for pent-up weather angst — or rage. We only have, what, maybe 13 summer weekends, including this one? Every one is precious, and a hard rain falling up at the cabin, with kids faces pressed up against the window pane, well, it’s just too sad to contemplate, after having survived yet another hearty Minnesota winter. Summer is our reward, and a washed out weekend, especially a holiday weekend, seems like cruelty run amok — it’s just not fair.

Think about this past week. In the span of 4 days we went from 3/10ths of an inch of snow at International Falls (season total was a record 125″+) last Saturday to wind chill, to 100 degree heat at Granite Falls just 3 days later (and the earliest 97 degree high in Twin Cities recorded history). Then we had blowing dust, sustained tropical storm force winds strong enough to bring down trees, followed by a few reports of quarter-size hail. When I tell you that we live in the Superbowl of Weather that’s not hyperbole, it’s the truth. Only Siberia has more extremes in temperature than we do. Had you driven from Grand Marais to Granite Falls last Tuesday you would have gone from 34 (with a wind chill dipping into the teens) to 100 degrees in the span of less than 200 miles; you would have driven through all 4 seasons in a 3 hour drive. Amazing.

The holiday weekend outlook is mostly-good, surprisingly decent for a holiday (I pray). A well-timed bubble of high pressure dropping out of Canada will sweep any showers over far southern Minnesota completely out of the state by midday. Skies should become increasingly sunny with a fresh northerly breeze. Much of Sunday looks sunny, a few degrees milder by mid afternoon, topping 70 across most of the state (after a potentially frosty start up north). Monday is still the atmospheric question mark. Enough moisture will stream north to fuel a few showers and T-storms, the best chance of a few hours of rain coming over far western and northern counties of Minnesota. Much of central and southern Minnesota, including St. Cloud and the Twin Cities area, may stay dry much of Memorial Day, towering thunderheads visible off to the north and west. 80 is a real possibility for the Twin Cities, readings well into the 70s to near 80 for St. Cloud and Willmar. Where it does rain Monday (Detroit Lakes to Wadena, Leech Lake and Bemidji) temperatures will probably hold in the 60s. With more clouds and a falling barometer the weather will be almost ideal for catching fish. Then again I’ve been accused of being a naive optimist.

Part of the challenge of forecasting the weather is communicating what I think the sky will look like — accurately — to you, the reader, the consumer of weather. We try to choose our words carefully, but there’s often confusion. What does “partly cloudy” really mean, anyway? So I’m going to try something a little different today, using photos to help describe what I HOPE the sky will look like today, Sunday and Memorial Day. The Internet is all about experimentation, right? So here goes…

Saturday may wind up being the sunniest day of the weekend, except for far southern MN, where clouds and showers linger during the AM hours. Remember, the risk of sunburn has nothing to do with temperature, and everything to do with the date and sun angle. The sun is about as high in the sky, and powerful, as it ever gets. Without sunscreen you can become the proud recipient of a painful sunburn within 30 minutes. All it takes is a few blistering sunburns to increase your risk of contracting melanoma, a sometimes fatal form of skin cancer. Treat the sun with the respect it deserves.

Saturday Weather: morning showers far south early in the day, from Worthington to Albert Lea and La Crosse. Elsewhere plan on plenty of sun, a north wind at 5-15, with a slowly rising barometer and highs ranging from the low 60s (northern lakes) to low 70s (Twin Cities). For much of Minnesota Saturday should be the coolest day, with the lowest humidity levels. Saturday night will border on cold up north — I would not be shocked to hear of FROST from Mille Lacs north to the Whitefish Chain. Yes, pack a hefty jacket if you’re going to be out after sunset Saturday evening, it will cool down in a hurry.

Winds: North: 5-15, unlimited visibility, rising barometer.

Sunday Weather: still nice with ample sun. A chilly start gives way to sunshine and temperatures a few degrees milder than Saturday, afternoon readings in the low 70s (central and south) to the mid 60s (far north). Winds will be light, and Doppler should be free of any showers — it looks like a pretty nice spring day across the great state of Minnesota….few complaints.

Winds: East 6-12, visibility over 20 miles, steady, then falling barometer.

The risk of T-storms will be greatest over far western and northern counties of Minnesota, but even there it probably won’t be an all-day rain. Have a Plan B, indoors, just in case the sky opens up. If it’s any consolation the risk of severe weather looks minimal. But any T-storm, by definition, is potentially deadly. Lightning is lazy: it wants the easiest path from the cloud base to the ground. If you’re stuck on a boat, or lounging on the beach, YOU may be the tallest object in the area. Being a human lightning rod is no fun — the first clap of thunder, the first flash of lightning on the horizon, make a bee-line for the relative safety of your cabin.

Memorial Day Weather:
clouds slowly increase with a growing chance of showers and storms, especially west of Windom, Fergus Falls, and Thief River Falls by afternoon. The heaviest rain, 2-5 hours worth, should be over far western and northern Minnesota, where some .5″+ rainfall amounts are quite possible. You’ll notice higher humidity levels (it may border on sticky), more haze, but a fair amount of sun from St. Cloud south and east toward the Twin Cities, Rochester and Mankato. The farther north/west you go, the better the odds of some rain, especially PM hours.

Winds:
Southeast 10-15. Visibiity: under 6 miles in haze, falling barometer. Lightning risk should be greatest over far northern/western lakes — be ready to get off the lake in a hurry the first time you see lightning or hear a rumble of thunder.

A weak trough of low pressure (think of this as an unusually cold wrinkle of air a few miles overhead, resulting in greater instability, especially PM hours) lingers much of next week, sparking a few random showers and storms Tuesday, Wednesday, even Thursday — weather systems in a temporary holding pattern. Long-range guidance is hinting at a few hours of rain next Saturday (May 30) with Sunday possibly being the sunnier day of the weekend. That’s way off on the horizon, barely legible on the maps, to be sure. I’m more concerned (freaked out, really) about the short-term forecast. Have fun out there, enjoy one of the nicest Memorial Day Weekends we’ve enjoyed in recent years. On Monday I hope you’ll join me in taking a few minutes to say a silent prayer to the men and women we honor; those who have sacrificed everything so we can enjoy a weekend getaway with our families, in freedom. As I get older I take less and less for granted, not the least of which is the cost of protecting our nation, our way of life. As crazy as that life can be some days I still wouldn’t trade it for anything. What’s that old saying? “Democracy isn’t perfect, but it sure beats all the other alternatives….”

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