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The dark days

Black armbands, flags at half-staff, knots of (sad-looking) friends and colleagues speaking in hushed tones. Minnesota is still undergoing Vikings-trauma. We’ve all fallen – and we can’t get up. I love the people who say, “it’s just a game!” Right, and Superior is just a lake. The truth: Minnesotans need a major winter distraction, a day-dream in purple and gold, a Vikings-shaped vessel to pour their hopes and dreams into. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Twins too, but there are so many games the season can get a little blurry at times. With football there are only 16 opportunities to shine, 16 chances to make us forget the windchill, 16 Sundays to ignore the growing stack of bills on the desk. That’s why Sunday’s showdown in New Orleans was so much more than “a game”, at least for die-hard Vikings fans. This past season was like Cinderella (with pads and spiked shoes). Mr. Favre made many of us true-believers, as awkward and painful as it must have been for Packer fans, Brett energized our team, breathed new life into our various midlife crisis – inspired anyone over the age of 40. It was an amazing season, in spite of Sunday’s final score.

Feel the burn. The WRF model is predicting temperature close to zero Thursday evening at 6 pm across much of Minnesota as a reinforcing shot of arctic air sweeps south of the border. Although not quite as cold as early January, this will be one of the colder weeks of the winter.

My son is a youngster (sophomore) at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. The midshipmen have a name for this time of year, when days are raw, the sun hanging low and uncertain in the southern sky. Too much work, too many obligations, not enough free-time or me-time, just a seemingly endless string of cold, drab, numbing days stretching to eternity. Depression and anxiety peaks in January, a pervasive sense of hopelessness, tinged with despair. For many – this really is the dark days, still digging out from holiday bills, the arctic chill just adds insult to injury. My take? We’re picking up 1-2 minutes of new daylight every passing day. Within 1 week (1 week!) the average temperature starts to rise again, for the first time in 6 months. Scanning the weather maps I’m still (reasonably) convinced that the very worst of winter is behind us, the coldest, longest stretch of subzero days and nights.

Land of the free, home of the snow-weary. Check out how much snow is on the ground over the western and northern third of the USA, although not as extensive and widespread as during the first week of January. Southwestern Minnesota still boasts the most snow on the ground, a cool 15-20″+. The North Shore of Lake Superior has just as much, 12-24″ just north/east of Duluth.

Nagging flood potential. According to NOAA there is at least 4-7″ of liquid water wrapped up in the snow south/west of the Minnesota River. The concern: a sudden thaw, coupled with moderate/heavy rain, could trigger rapid snow-melt in March and early April, increasing the potential for flooding on Minnesota’s rivers. Too early to predict with any certainty, but the risk is there.

Speaking of subzero – are you enjoying your Tuesday? Yes, this is an acquired taste. But keep in mind our coldest days are usually sunny, blue sky draped overhead. Today the sun will be as high in the sky as it was back on November 15! O.K. I’m grasping at (cold) straws here, but my point is this: we’re just about to turn a big corner. Within a mere 30 days we’ll see 40s, even a few 50s. Within a month the ice houses will start to come off area lakes – thoughts will turn to spring break, graduation, prom and the fishing opener. Don’t get me wrong: there’s still plenty of winter left to go – more snow, more outdoor fun in the Minnesota powder, but the (continuous) chirping of some very brave, hearty (stupid?) birds outside my house every morning are a welcome reminder that there will be a spring this year. Hang in there – as soon as next week we’ll see a welcome rerun of 20s and 30s as Pacific air filters back into Minnesota.

In the short term this week will be a subtle (yet blunt) reminder that this is – historically – the bottom of the barrel, when temperatures usually flatten out, hit bottom. That’s why city fathers (and mothers) in St. Paul chose the last 10 days of January for their big Carnival. They chose these days, confident that these were the 10 days of winter where melting snow/ice was LEAST LIKELY. That’s why Saturday’s rain was such a shock to the system. Whether it was a symptom of El Nino or just a strange meteorological fluke, it was highly unusual for late January. Between Saturday’s rain and Sunday’s “dry tongue” snow lovers are in a bit of a funk right about now, and I don’t have any big “snow headlines” – the pattern just not ripe for any fresh snow anytime soon. Good news for commuters, bad news for anyone hoping for a few inches of cold, crystalline Minnesota fun.

Climate Data for Monday, January 25.

:            STATION           MAX     MIN       SNOW  SNOW
STC : ST CLOUD MN ARPT : 21 / 17 / 0.7 8
MSP : MINNEAPOLIS MN ARPT : 25 / 19 / 0.9 7
DLH : DULUTH AIRPORT : 27 / 18 / 4.2 25
INL : INTERNATIONAL FALLS : 30 / 11 / 6.4 21
HIB : HIBBING ARPT : 26 / 15 / M M
GNA : GRAND MARAIS MN : 37 / 24 / M M
RST : ROCHESTER MN ARPT : 26 / 15 / 0.2 11

February thaw? Check out the predicted temperatures (GFS model) for 6 am Monday morning, February 1. Temperatures are forecast to be above 30 across much of central and southern Minnesota – a badly needed upward blip in the mercury, just 6 days away.

Paul’s Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Sunshine returns, numbing breeze – feels like -10 F. Winds: West 10-15. High: 11

Tonight: Clear and “Nanook”. Low: -5

Wednesday: Plenty of sun, still chilling. High: 9

Thursday: More clouds, few flurries possible. Low: -5. High: 6

Friday: Increasingly sunny, an arctic breeze. Low: -8. High: 9

Saturday: Mix of clouds and sun, not quite as cold. Low: -7. High: 15

Sunday: Mostly cloudy, light snow possible late. High: 23

Monday: Light snow, flurries – noticeably milder. High: 33

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