Storm quiet in Duluth area before mid-afternoon waveHeavy snow is expected to fall this morning, followed by a lull in the storm. But a full-scale blizzard is expected in the Twin Ports tonight and some churches are canceling services.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune, Pine Journal
The band of heavy snow that dumped up to nine inches in parts of Duluth this morning has moved north into the Arrowhead, leaving Twin Ports-area residents and plow drivers a good chance to catch up on clearing snow.
But the National Weather Service in Duluth is urging Northlanders not to let their guard down — that a second wave of the storm will hit this afternoon and that snow could fall into Saturday.
“I’d say this lull will last to about mid-afternoon, then it’s going to pick up again," said Kevin Donofrio, assistant forecaster at the Weather Service office. “We’re going to see heavy snow pick up again, especially this evening. And we’ll see some very windy conditions tonight."
A blizzard warning remains posted until 6 a.m. Saturday for areas near Lake Superior, where heavy snow and winds to 45 mph will cause near-whiteout conditions into Christmas morning.
The storm won’t leave the region until Saturday, leaving between eight and 18 inches on the ground across the Northland, with the highest amounts near Lake Superior, where whiteout conditions are expected tonight and early Christmas Day.
By 10 a.m., snowfall reports included nine inches in Canal Park, 7.4 inches at Duluth International Airport and in Cloquet, and more than six inches in Ashland and south of Superior.
Several churches already were canceling their late services for tonight. The Minnesota State Patrol reported 400 vehicles in the ditch across the state, 139 accidents, 16 serious injuries and one death due to snow- and ice-covered roads — all before 6 a.m.
The monster winter storm blasting eight states is showing eerie similarities to the Halloween blizzard of 1991, forecasters said Wednesday, with its intense low pressure and ample moisture. Winter storm or blizzard warnings were posted for the entire state of Minnesota, much of western Wisconsin, Iowa, the eastern Dakotas, parts of Nebraska and Kansas and eastern Colorado.
“Travel will be impossible in the blizzard area. There’s nowhere you can go to get out of this, except maybe north," said Carol Christenson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Duluth.
“Christmas isn’t canceled. You’ll just be spending it in the comfort of your home with your family," she said.
Freezing rain could complicate travel, especially in Wisconsin and Iowa.
The storm probably won’t touch the record 37 inches Duluth received in the three-day storm in 1991. But the whiteout Christmas of 2009 could be the biggest snow dump across most of Minnesota in at least 18 years.
National Weather Service forecasters in Sioux Falls, S.D., are calling it “the storm of the quarter-century’’ and “life-threatening’’ in farm country, while meteorologists in the Twin Cities say record snowfall totals are possible in some areas of the state before snow ends Saturday.
“This storm is reminiscent of the infamous Halloween blizzard of 1991,” the forecasters noted in a storm report Wednesday, noting more than two feet of snow fell across central and Northeast Minnesota in 1991 while freezing rain plagued Wisconsin — much the same as today’s forecast.
“The extended duration of the anticipated snowfall with the impending system, along with the impressive moisture [from the Gulf of Mexico] continues to support one- to nearly two-foot snowfall accumulations by the time the heavier snow winds down on Friday night.”
Hundreds of state, county and municipal plows are ready to roll, but experts warned that they may not be able to keep up with heavy snow rates to keep roads safely clear of snow and ice buildup. They also asked for patience and safety near plows.
Even if the storm forces airlines to cancel flights and stall passengers, crews at Duluth International Airport will use their 18 pieces of snow-removing equipment to fight the storm and keep at least one runway usable for the 148th Fighter Wing of the Minnesota Air National Guard. The wing’s F-16s are always on alert if needed for national defense.
“We run 24/7 no matter how bad it gets,” said Brian Grefen, operations director at the airport. “We have to keep it open for the Air Guard.”