An icy wasteland

Update: 11am, Thursday. Clipper continues to drop light snow on the Twin Cities.


* Clipper brushes the Twin Cities metro with 1/2 to 2″ of powdery snow, heaviest amounts south metro.

* Winds increase today, creating wind chills of -20 to -30 F by tonight, in the danger zone.

* Sunshine from Friday into much of the weekend as temperatures begin to moderate.

* String of 20s next week, we may hit the freezing mark for the first time since December 25!

Like everyone else, I’ve been slipping, sliding and shuffling around town, trying my best to remain upright, a few close encounters on what has been described as the worst ice in nearly a decade. The problem: our Christmas Day snow partially melted, and then refroze into a 1-2″ concrete-like slab of glare ice. All wheel drive, front wheel drive, nothing short of a Sherman tank is going to be sure-footed on ice. It’s bad enough in our vehicles, but on foot the hazards are even more extreme – the greatest risk: falling and hitting your head on the ice. Bone-breaks, fractures, dislocated shoulders, bruises – the list goes on and on, and the statistics are truly harrowing:

– During an average year 16,000+ Americans are killed by injuries sustained by falling on ice.

– Ice-related falls are the #1 cause of injury-related death in the USA for people over the age of 73, the #2 cause of death for people ages 60-72.

– Nearly as many people are seriously injured by ice as by accidental poisoning in their homes.

– Looking at emergency room expenses, ice-related falls cost nearly as much traffic accidents in the USA. They’re just underreported: they don’t make “the news” the way a fender-bender might get on TV or in the newspaper. It’s a solitary, often lonely mini-tragedy affecting only the family involved.

These statistics are staggering, and it dawned on me why so many people dread winter in Minnesota. It isn’t the snow (per se) or even the cold. It’s the risk of ice, and specifically the very real threat of FALLING on the ice and suffering a debilitating injury – or worse. Even if you survive the fall, a hip break will land you in the hospital; you may or may not be able to regain full mobility, and of course, when you’re in the hospital other complications can arise, like infection. The fall may not kill you, but a nasty infection may do the trick weeks later. I get it, and the older I get the more respect I have for the ice. I LOVE snow, love to play in it, love to fire up my Polaris sleds and romp in a fresh snowfall. Besides, there’s nothing more beautiful than a fresh mantel of white. Christmas ’09 truly looked like a Norman Rockwell painting. But ice? It’s a lot harder rationalizing ice (that isn’t in a hockey arena or on a lake surface). When it’s close to 0 F. the salt/sand mixture put down my MnDOT plows is not very efficient – there’s precious little melting, and even if it does (temporarily) melt, it will just re-freeze, transforming snow into a sheet of dangerous glare ice. That’s the situation out there right now – until the mercury reaches the 20s (next week) we’ll have to grin and bear it, and do our best to get around without falling.

Here are a few tips for navigating the ice. Please send this to older friends, neighbors and family members. You probably don’t want to inspect your mom or dad’s footwear, but there’s nothing more dangerous than walking around with boots or shoes that have perfectly-smooth soles. There are steps you can take to lower the overall risk. Here are a few:

Wear boots or overshoes with soles. Avoid walking in shoes that have smooth surfaces, which increase the risk of slipping.   Walk consciously. Be alert to the possibility that you could quickly slip on an unseen patch of ice. Avoid the temptation to run to catch a bus or beat traffic when crossing a street.   Walk cautiously. Your arms help keep you balanced, so keep hands out of pockets and avoid carrying heavy loads that may cause you to become off balance.   Walk “small.” Avoid an erect, marching posture. Look to see ahead of where you step. When you step on icy areas, take short, shuffling steps, curl your toes under and walk as flatfooted as possible.   Remove snow immediately before it becomes packed or turns to ice. Keep your porch stoops, steps, walks and driveways free of ice by frequently applying ice melter granules. This is the best way to prevent formation of dangerous ice patches. Using a potassium-based melter, such as Safe Step, instead of salt will prevent damage to concrete, grass and other vegetation or to carpets and floors should you track in some.

There is even a “correct way to fall”, as ridiculous as that may sound. For a good article on ice safety click here, another article stressing preventive maintenance is here.

Close, but not quite. Wednesday’s clipper focused most of the snow on far western and southwestern Minnesota, just brushing St. Cloud and the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities. For the latest high-res (USA) radar image from the NWS, click here.

Yesterday’s Alberta Clipper tracked farther south/west than the computer models were suggesting (proving my theory that clippers are among the toughest weather phenomena to accurately predict). A difference of 50 miles in the track can easily mean the difference between 5″ and no snow. That was the case Wednesday: 6-8″ near Windom, 2-4″ for Mankato and Waseca, but little or no snow from St. Cloud to the Twin Cities. Accumulating snow pretty much stayed south/west of the Minnesota River. Each successive computer run this week looked less and less impressive, a close call for snow lovers (but commuters are probably breathing a small sigh of relief). We missed most of the snow – but no such luck with the cold. There’s no avoiding it. Temperatures tumble through single digits today as winds increase from the north on the backside of yesterday’s no-show clipper. The mercury won’t climb above zero tomorrow in spite of a pleading sun and plenty of blue sky; we wake up to -20, possibly -25 F Saturday morning. The good news: upper-level steering winds, which have been howling from the Yukon for the better part of 2 1/2 weeks – will become slightly more westerly by early next week. Milder Pacific air will slosh across the Rockies and warm us up into the 20s – 30 is a real possibility by Wednesday of next week. You will be AMAZED at how good 30 (above) feels after what we’ve all just been through. I can’t remember a time when I’ve been more grateful to cheer on a belated January Thaw.

Latest Minnesota Snow Cover. There’s nearly 2 feet of snow on the ground near the North Shore of Lake Superior (much of it enhanced by recent lake effect). For the very latest click here to see a wealth of winter weather information from the MN DNR.

I think we will see some 30s next week, roughly 10 degrees above average (!!) by the middle of the week, a definite atmospheric reprieve of sorts. Although we will see more arctic fronts later in January and February I still believe (hope and pray) that the coldest days and nights of the winter may be behind us by Sunday of next week – looking at the sheer number of hours below zero. We’ll see if that’s just wishful thinking. No big storms in sight, just a welcome thaw next week, then cooler weather returning for the third week of January (but not nearly as cold as the next few days will be). Hang in there….better, more tolerable days ahead. By next week you won’t have to hold your breath every time you dash outside to get the mail (or newspaper).

Is our 2 week cold wave PROOF that global warming all a bunch of hot air? I’ve been gently reminding people that this is “weather”, not “climate”. 2009 will wind up being one of the 10 warmest years on record. Yes, it’s cold out there, and much of the Northern Hemisphere is shivering, but it doesn’t prove anything, long-term, keeping a true, global perspective. You can’t track that looking out your window. For more on the weather vs. climate angle click here.

The local National Weather Service has done a great job documenting the snow events of 2009. Click here for all the details.

Paul’s Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Patchy clouds and flurries early, then partial clearing with a very cold wind. Winds: NW 15-25. High: 6 (wind chill near -30 at times).

Tonight: Mostly clear, bitter again. Low: -9

Friday: Blue sky, “nanook”! High: 2

Friday night: Clear – coldest night in sight. Low: -15

Saturday: Numbing start, partly sunny, more tolerable by late afternoon. High: 12

Sunday: Mix of clouds and sun, closer to “average” for mid January. High: 22

Monday: More clouds, few passing flurries. High: near 20

Tuesday: Noticeably milder, intervals of sun. High: 26

Wednesday: Risk of a thaw! Some sun, well above average. High: 32 (!)

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Drew Osborne on 01/08/2010 - 08:30 am.

    I agree with you that it is a slickery slippery mess out there after that storm at Christmas time.
    Last year I had numerous falls in the parking lot where I work, plus other places around town here in Redwood Falls. Being a tall man, the ground seems a lot further away for me. Luckily no injuries, just a little stiffness. I said no more, and I searched the web and found some over the shoe/boot grippers for conditiions such as these this year. I can’t remember exactly where I purchased them from, but boy do they work. Wearing them is like wearing a rubber soled shoe on hard-wood floor vs. going with just socks on a hard-wood floor. Traction is unbelievable. Four small titanium studs in front, and two on the heel. Well worth the money I paid for them.
    Save walking Paul!!
    I’m sure glad that I came across this website, as I have really missed your ‘CCO weather broadcasts, and your blurb you had in the StarTribune. No one can provide accurate weather plus keep it amusing and entertaining like you can.

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