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A cool foot or more likely

“Twin Cities snowstorms are a little like the Vikings. They get our hopes up so high, only to be disappointed in the end.”

– Amy Carlson-Gustafson, St. Paul Pioneer Press

“When I was a kid the snow would come up to my waist. Come to think of it I was only 2 feet tall back then….”

– anonymous

Welcome to the snowiest Christmas Eve on record for the Twin Cities! Today’s 24 hour snowfall record: 2.8″ set in 1916. We will almost certainly shatter that record, possibly by 9 or 10 am this morning! More Christmas Eve/Day weather trivia from the local NWS right here.

364 days out of the year we can be defensive, skeptical – cynical. It’s sad that the world has forced those defense mechanisms on us just to get by, just to endure, day to day. It wasn’t always that way. But at Christmas we try to pick it up a notch, set aside our petty issues and unite with family and friends, celebrating an extraordinary birth and the Ultimate Gift by sharing gifts with the people we care about. It’s a wonderful tradition, one that has stood the test of time, well at least the last 2,000 years or so. At Christmas all of us get our childhood back, we can be big kids again. Just like my undying belief in Santa – I WANT TO BELIEVE that we can still get clobbered with an old fashioned, shovel-bending, tire-spinning snowstorm. You know, a butt-kicking, interstate-snarling storm that brings back glowing memories of childhood sledding, snowball fights, snow days, snow forts, hockey out on the freshly shoveled pond, the way winter was meant to be….

A funnel for Gulf of Mexico moisture. The classic “Texas Hooker” snowstorm shows signs of hooking northwestward and stalling (temporarily) over Iowa for 36 hours, prolonging the snow, before weakening and lifting into Canada by Sunday. During the 1991 Halloween Superstorm a powerful storm stalled out over Lake Superior for the better part of 48 hours, also prolonging the snow, resulting in 28.4″ of snow over a 3-day period. We won’t see that much snow, but much of Minnesota will be blanketed under a 1 to 1.5 foot snowfall, with closer to 2 feet near Duluth and the North Shore.

Whispers of ’91. In the case of the Halloween Superstorm of 1991 a powerful storm stalled over Lake Superior, responding to a similar superstorm which had stalled off the coast of New England, the “perfect storm” highlighted in Sebastian Junger’s book. These 2 equally potent blizzards stalled simultaneously, prolonging heavy precipitation and high winds. The pattern is somewhat similar this time around, but hardly identical (no megastorm downstream, lurking off the east coast). Even though the storm will slow to a creep over Iowa Christmas Day, the pattern is “progressive” – we don’t expect a 3-day holding pattern capable of squeezing out 20″+ of snow. That said, 10-15″ will be quite enough across most of the state!

Although this won’t be a rerun of the 1991 Halloween “Superstorm” the next 48 hours will bring back slushy, crunchy, snow-splattered memories of storms gone by. Today may wind up being the snowiest Christmas Eve on record, and before the flakes stop falling sometime late Saturday a cool 12-16″ of snow will cake most of central Minnesota, including St. Cloud. The Twin Cities metro may see a little ice mixing in, temperatures at ground-level close to freezing later today and Friday, but even there a healthy 10-14″ of snow may pile up.

Unlike the storm that hit a couple weeks ago, brushing southeastern counties with blizzard conditions, this will be a heavy, wet snowfall, a “heart attack snow.” I’m not a physician, nor do I play one on TV, but I would remind your spouse, significant other, parents or stray uncles NOT to be heroes out there in the coming days. The water content in the snow will be very high, the snow spiked with a little freezing drizzle at times, making it VERY HEAVY. Be careful out there, take your sweet old time getting that cement-like snow off your driveway or sidewalk. No rush!

Potential Whiteout Conditions. Blizzard Warnings for the Duluth area and Lake Superior’s North Shore. With a lack of friction winds flowing across Lake Superior may approach blizzard criteria (sustained at 35 mph), so the NWS has issued Blizzard Warnings for the Duluth area. Lake effect may spike an already potent storm system, resulting in some 2 foot plus snowfall amounts by Saturday.

A few “Snowpocalypse” Storm Headlines:

* I see 3-4 separate “waves” of snow surging into central Minnesota by Saturday. One pushed into town overnight, you’re waking up to the aftermath. Another heavier band of snow arrives this evening and lingers overnight, a third surge rotates around a slow-moving storm Friday night and early Saturday – each surge capable of 3-4″ of additional snow.

* Daytime temperatures Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be close to 30 F, meaning interstates and even some major state highways may just be wet/slushy, while most secondary roads will be snow covered.

* This will NOT be a blizzard. Sustained winds should stay under 20-25 mph, visibilities around 1/4 to 1/2 mile. Since it’s heavy, wet snow it won’t be prone to as much blowing and drifting.

* Traction will still be tough, keep in mind that traction on snow is much worse at 30-32 F than it is at 15-20 F. It’s a little counter-intuitive, I know. The reason: there’s a little liquid water in the snow when the temperature is 30-32 F, lubricating the snow, making it slipperier. Again, take it very easy out there through Saturday morning.

* Travel conditions won’t improve significantly until Saturday afternoon when light snow finally tapers to flurries. Sunday will be the better day to get around this weekend, whether it’s returning “handsome” Christmas sweaters or trying to get the heck home!

* How much? I’m thinking 7″ by dinnertime today, 10″ by dinner on Christmas Day and a total of 10-14″ by lunchtime Saturday. There could still be a band of 20″ close to home, the best chance probably near Duluth, where lake effect may enhance the snow that falls.

* If we pick up more than 14.7″ of snow this will the 11th biggest snowfall in modern-day records. For a list of the Top 11 Snowstorms for MSP click here. This may be the most snow since March 8-9, 1999, when 16″ of snow fell on the Twin Cities.

* Temperatures tumble around the middle of next week: highs in teens, nighttime lows at or below zero around New Year’s Eve. The Canadian Slap won’t linger for long, no sustained bouts of subzero cold are in sight.

* The long-range (GFS) computer model is hinting at a few inches of snow around Jan. 5-6, 2010. Twenty-ten. Kind of rolls of the tongue, huh? How on earth did it get to be 20-ten? Good grief. I’m feeling ancient.

* The same model is hinting at a blizzard for coastal New England by Saturday, January 2. Boston may get clobbered (although it’s still very early).

Honoring those who serve the USA. The weather map shows relatively cool & quiet conditions from Baghdad to Kabul. The latest satellite image showing a cold front pushing across the eastern Mediterranean, a lack of major storms from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Our thoughts, hopes and prayers go out to our sons, daughters, fathers and mothers serving overseas – I can’t even begin to imagine how tough it must be to be away from loved ones during the Christmas holiday season. Not only half a world away, but perpetually in harm’s way, unable to ever really let your guard down. In honor of these brave Americans I want to offer up my gratitude for their service, and a little Christmas Day Outlook for the Middle East. It’s the least we can do as we honor their commitment and bravery.

Baghdad, Iraq

Christmas Eve: Mild sun, quite pleasant. High: 73

Tonight: Partly cloudy, comfortably cool. Low: 51

Christmas Day: Lot’s of sun, a bit cooler. High: 69

Kabul, Afghanistan

Christmas Eve: Partly sunny and cool. High: 52

Tonight: Patchy clouds, some frost likely. Low: 32

Christmas Day: Mix of clouds and sun. High: near 50

(rain possible by Sunday, highs in the mid 40s)

Paul’s Outlook for the Twin Cities
Today: Winter Storm Warning. Snow, moderate to heavy at times. A little freezing drizzle may mix in, especially south/east of St. Paul. Winds: NE 10-20. High: near 30

Tonight: Snow, mixing with ice at times. Low: 27

Christmas Day: Heavy wet snow, more wind, treacherous travel conditions with ice mixing in from time to time. 8-10″ on the ground by Friday evening. Winds: N/NE 15-25. High: near 32

Saturday: Snow gradually tapers to flurries. Snow totals of 10-14″ expected by midday Saturday. High: 26

Sunday: Much better travel day. Intervals of sunshine, few leftover flakes. High: 23

Monday: More sun, seasonably chilly. High: 23

Tuesday: Mix of clouds and sun – quiet. High: 25

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Stan Daniels on 12/24/2009 - 09:56 am.

    We have had 8″ already in Shakopee (border of Prior Lake). I’ll stick with the weather service and 16 – 22″. I think you missed this one Paul (you said 9 – 12 yesterday).

  2. Submitted by Stan Daniels on 12/25/2009 - 08:24 am.

    I stand corrected! Paul nailed the forecast. Well done.

    Merry Christmas Paul.

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