Is this the coldest morning of the winter?

Metaphysical question: can you be any colder than numb? At some point (well into negative numbers) it’s hard to tell much of a difference. You feel the burn, the tickle when you sip in a breath quickly turns to a throbbing, acidic burn, almost as if you’ve just been dropped off on the planet Neptune. Our new motto: Pluto, with lakes! I don’t think I’ll get a call back from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce on that one. Just trying to be helpful. Welcome to the coldest morning since January 16, 2009, when the mercury bottomed out at -22 at MSP International Airport. That’s not wind chill, that was the actual air temperature. We had ideal conditions for a frigid night: fresh, arctic air, light winds and crystal clear skies. The mercury started out chilly (our “high” on Saturday was 1 F). Beat your chest, let out a little primal scream (feel free to wake the neighbors) because my hunch is that you may have just endured the coldest night of the winter. Historically our coldest weather is about 2-3 weeks away, coming roughly 1 month past the winter solstice. It takes about a month or so before a higher sun angle compensates for long nights and lingering snow cover across North America. By February we’re picking up an extra 2 minutes of daylight and about 1-2 degrees every week. Long-range guidance is hinting that, at some point, roughly 10 days from now, Canada will essentially run out of bitter air, jet stream steering winds will swing around to a slightly more moderate, westerly direction, and we may be blessed with 20s, even an outside shot at 30 degrees. Where are we living, where 20 degrees seems like a blessing, a Godsend, a giant serving of atmospheric relief? The net result: a state of hardened weather warriors. With the possible exception of portions of North Dakota and interior Alaska, Minnesota pretty much has Cold Weather Boasting Rights for America. What about Montana and Wyoming? Not nearly as cold, on average, more influence from the mild Pacific – the harshest airmasses often stay east of the Rockies.

It was SO COLD! Infrared satellite imagery measures the temperature of clouds (the colder, thicker clouds producing the most rain/snow usually show up vividly). But when it’s this cold the satellite has trouble distinguishing between clouds and cold air. In this case you’re looking at bitter air (-10 to -20 F) streaming southward across Minnesota. The only exception: the immediate Twin Cities (appears gray, not blue). On a clear, winter night the “Urban Heat Island” (heat given off from homes, businesses) can keep major urban areas 10-15 degrees warmer than outlying suburbs. Such was the case overnight: temperatures in the downtowns and close-in suburbs were at least 10 degrees warmer, but still well below zero. Interesting factoid: because of the urban heat island the growing season for downtown Mpls. and St. Paul is nearly 2 weeks longer than it is for the outlying suburbs).

Atmospheric Justice. Yes, there is a God, and he is fair. I couldn’t help but grin when I checked out Florida’s forecast: freeze warnings as far south as Naples and the suburbs of Miami, hard freeze warnings for northern Florida, where lows may dip into the mid 20s. The price of orange juice may spike in the coming weeks, I could see some light/moderate damage to Florida’s citrus crop because of the severe chill.

The bottom line: as ludicrous as it sounds (with an air temperature well below zero) if you’re a). dressed properly (multiple layers to trap your body’s natural body warmth), and b). ACTIVE, doing something, anything, skiing, sledding, walking, hurling snowballs – you’re ok. It’s the people who are sedentary (ie stationary), or elderly, who have poor circulation, and infants – all have a much higher risk of not only frostbite but hypothermia, a slow, insidious drop in body temperature, which can prove fatal if not caught in time. Symptoms include slurred speech, disorientation, persistent chills. Check on older friends, family members and neighbors – just to make sure their home or apartment is staying warm enough in these extreme conditions. Err on the side of caution – we certainly don’t want to start out the new year on a tragic note.



Saturday’s Numbers (courtesy of the National Weather Service)

STATION                MAX     MIN     24-HR    SNOW  SNOW
NAME TEMP TEMP PCPN FALL DEPTH
ALEXANDRIA MN ARPT : -5 / -26 / M / M / M
ST CLOUD MN ARPT : -3 / -24 / T / T / 10
MINNEAPOLIS MN ARPT : 1 / -15 / 0.00 / 0 / 9
REDWOOD FALLS MN ARPT : -10 / -29 / T / M / M
DULUTH AIRPORT : -2 / -21 / 0.00 / 0 / 20
INTERNATIONAL FALLS : -8 / -37 / 0.00 / 0 / 18
HIBBING ARPT : -1 / -24 / 0.00 / M / M
GRAND MARAIS MN : 2 / -12 / 0.00 / M / M
ROCHESTER MN ARPT : -6 / -19 / 0.00 / 0 / 16

A stubborn ridge of high pressure glued over the Upper Midwest will act like a giant roadblock, forcing any storms to detour well south/west of Minnesota this week. We should stay dry through Wednesday, with only a small chance of light, accumulating snow (powdery) by Thursday as a reinforcing jab of Siberian air surges south. We’ll shiver like crazy on Friday, but the good news: a rapid warming trend is likely for the weekend, at least a 48 hour reprieve, with some 20s, even an outside shot at 30 degrees by Sunday (still a little too early to tell, but some relief from the biting Yukon breeze is likely by the weekend). More numbing air drains southward out of Canada next week, probably not quite as cold as what’s passing overhead right now, but cold enough. We may get a longer break from this brittle streak by the third week of January, but no extended thaws are expected.

With any luck we may see a brief, fleeting January thaw next weekend. There’s at least a 40% probability you’ll regain some feeling in your extremities within 6 days. And if this isn’t the coldest morning of the entire winter, it’ll certainly be in the top 3. I wouldn’t be shocked to hear of some -30 to -40 F. readings over northern Minnesota, maybe a -45 near Embarrass and Tower, the twin towns of extreme cold.


Yes, it’s “cold enough” for me. This is my drain spout, next to my garage. I’ve never seen anything quite like this, almost like it was “flash-frozen” – visually it pretty well sums up the rough stretch of weather we’re muddling through.



Paul’s Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Arctic sun, light winds, dangerously cold (if you’re not dressed properly). Winds: NE 5-10. High: 3

Tonight: Mostly clear, not quite as harsh. Still plenty cold. Low: -12

Monday: Blue sky much of the day, nice to be above zero again. High: 8

Tuesday: Increasing clouds, a little closer to average. High: 13

Wednesday: Chance of light snow/flurries late. High: near 12

Thursday: Windy and colder with light snow, maybe an inch or two of fluff. High: 8

Friday: Bitter sun returns, another temperature relapse. High: near 0

Saturday: Numbing start, rapid warming trend as clouds increase. High: 15

Sunday: Partly sunny, noticeably milder. High: 25 (above!)

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