First thaw since Christmas Day

Weather Headlines

* Mild, Pacific air streaming across the Rockies, promising the first thaw since Christmas Day, 2009.
* Mid 30s likely the latter half of this week, 30s should hang on into much of next week, 40 not out of the question by the weekend of January 23-24.
* Pattern not ripe for major storms looking out 10 days.
* Slow snow melt will trigger sloppy roads and patchy fog.
* Potential for a cold rain by Sunday, January 24, turning to snow by January 25 – potential for a few inches before much colder air returns after January 27.
* Much colder end to January/start to February, but probably not as Nanook as last week.
* 36 in Miami Monday morning, 42 at Key West, second coldest temperature ever recorded.
* December: 16th coldest for the USA since modern-day records were first started.

Breaking Weather News. Will this lead the newscasts? Maybe not, but at least one of the top 3 local stories: the first thaw in 17 days. Freezing has never been more appreciated.


The Vikes are on a serious roll, the economy seems to be ticking upward (I pray), and my long-lost neighbors are emerging from hibernation, rubbing their eyes – shielding their eyes from a bright midwinter sun. The January Thaw, most frequently observed east of the Mississippi River, is a little more than 24 hours away – you’ll be amazed how good 32 lousy degrees can feel in mid January. As of yesterday there was a cool 10″ of snow on the ground from St. Cloud into the Twin Cities, but the DNR is reporting over 30″ of snow across parts of southwestern Minnesota (4-6″ of water locked up in that snow pack, which has me increasingly nervous about the specter of river flooding 2-3 months from now, especially along the Minnesota and Red River). Time will tell. The weather forecast is rarely black or white – it’s usually some nebulous, hard-to-predict shade of gray. But Old Man Winter will loosen his death-grip on Minnesota and the Upper Midwest for the next 7-10 days. The El Nino signal (which has been predicted for more than 6 months) is FINALLY showing up on the maps, a tendency for milder Pacific air to penetrate well inland, thawing out the northern tier states, while big, sloppy, potentially violent Pacific storms thrash the west coast, and then take a more southerly track, soaking Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta.

From Sea to Shining Sea. Check out the red, very white, and blue USA – a little snow on the ground as far south as Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. Nice that so much of the country could feel our pain, huh?

Predicting daytime highs with 10″ of snow on the ground is a bit problematic. You see, the sun’s energy will go into melting snow, rather than warming up the air. Throw in a strong inversion (warmer a few thousand feet above the ground than right at ground level) and you understand why the mercury may not climb as high as some of the models are predicting. The GFS is hinting at 40 degrees by the weekend of January 23-24, which seems like a stretch with the big pile of white outside my window. Not impossible, but unlikely. Mid 30s seem more likely, and the first chance of being serenaded by dripping icicles will probably come tomorrow, as winds pick up from the south under a partly sunny sky. Stock up on blue juice (for your windshield) because highways will be a sloppy, runny mess. During the daylight hours many icy patches will become at least partially wet, only to re-freeze each night. At least you’ll have a window of opportunity to hack most of the thick ice off your driveway or sidewalk. Just beware each morning, after wet, slushy surfaces have had a chance to freeze over again – could be quite hazardous out there.

Growing Flood Potential? There is a good 4-6″ of liquid water tied up in the snowpack over far southwestern Minnesota, according to NOAA. Whether our rivers flood or not in 2-3 months will depend on a multitude of factors, including how rapidly it warms up, and whether any vigorous warm fronts are accompanied by heavy rain, which would accelerate snow melt and any subsequent flooding.

Current Snow Cover. Wright and western Hennepin county seem to have the most snow on the ground, more than 12″ or so. But far southwestern Minnesota is boasting as much as 24-32″ of snow, with a cool 18-24″ along Lake Superior’s North Shore. The upcoming weekend will be ideal for outdoor sports: highs mostly in the 30s – still plenty of snow to play in statewide.

The forecast for Sunday’s big Vikes-Cowboys game? Partly sunny with a high of 36, nearly 15 degrees ABOVE AVERAGE! The announcers will still make cracks about Minnesota’s crazy weather – they just can’t help themselves. Next week should remain mild, a “zonal” flow from the Pacific keeping highs in the 30s, any major storms detouring well south of Minnesota. By the end of next week the maps look a bit more interesting. There’s a potential for a rain event the weekend of January 23-24, possibly a sloppy mix, changing over to wet snow – potentially heavy – right around Monday, January 25, give or take a day. That’s way out on the horizon, and my comfort level in that prediction is even lower than usual. It seems inevitable that a fresh swipe of numbing air will follow any storm, probably sweeping into Minnesota around the 27th – we end out the month of January much colder than average, although right now I don’t see it getting quite as cold as it’s been much of the last 2 weeks. We’ll see. There is absolutely NO WAY we’ll avoid a few more arctic smacks. That’s about as likely as taxes, mosquitoes and Menards commercials. But at least we have the better part of 10 days to catch our collective breath, regroup, recover, rejuvenate – this would be a perfect weekend to get out and PLAY in the snow with highs in the 30s. It will feel very comfortable out there. By the following weekend (Jan. 23-24) it may be a little more slushy and mushy, especially if a southern storm does spread a rare January rain into Minnesota. If you have an option get out this upcoming weekend, possibly the best weekend of winter to enjoy the (significant) snow cover, without having to dress if 10 layers and check the kids for signs of frostbite. Enjoy the brief, fleeting holiday from wind-chill-itis. I know I will!

It Could be Worse – Much Worse. Check out this story from northeastern Germany, where 160 drivers were stranded in their vehicles – they had to be rescued from 78″ drifts. Much of Europe is grappling with the coldest, snowiest winter in decades. The entire northern hemisphere is getting a mean dose of Old Man Winter. The complete story in the BBC is here.


Paul’s Outlook for the Twin Cities


Today: Partly sunny, breezy, noticeably milder. Winds: S/SW 10-15. High: 29

Tonight: Partly cloudy, not as chilly. Low: 17

Wednesday: Intervals of sun – thaw likely. High: 33

Thursday: Mix of clouds and sun, sloppy and slushy on area highways. High: 33

Friday: Still quiet and storm-free. Some sun. High: 32

Saturday: Patchy fog early, then some PM sun. High: 33

Sunday: Not bad for mid January. Clouds increase. High: 35

Monday: Patchy clouds, still 10-14 degrees milder than “average”. High: 33

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