Ready for a Change?


When the temperature drops, everyone wants to know how long it will last and when will warmer temperatures return. We are in the middle of a cold shot of air with wind chills expected to drop to dangerous levels. This may be the last shot of cold air we may experience for a while. The charts posted here show the 500 mb pattern, 850 mb temperatures and the precipitation forecast for today and seven days from now. Notice how the upper level winds are currently out of the northwest. Most of our current weather systems are originating in Canada and points north. In seven days our winds aloft switch to the southwest. The switch to southwesterly flow aloft will bring warmer temperature and more precipitation. While we may not expect temperatures in the 50s or 60s, we won’t see a extended cold snap below 0F for the short term. Hang in there … warmth is on the way!

Blizzard Aaron

Our first blizzard of the year has come and gone. The Grand Forks Herald named this one Aaron in honor of a UND basketball player. The storm did not produce high snowfall totals. It did produce blizzard like conditions with visibilities near zero and wind speed gusting over 35 mph. Here at the Grand Forks Airport the snowboard was bare but we estimated that 1.2″ of new snow fell. The NWS in town measured 2.4″ The visibility at the airport was 3/4 mile most of the night and early morning hours.

Powerful Winter Storm Bears Down on Red River Valley

A powerful winter storm is bearing down on the Red River Valley today. The storm is fueled by a strong temperature variation in temperature across North Dakota, Minnesota and Canada. Southerly winds ahead of the storm brought warm air into the valley with Grand Forks reaching a high temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain started as the sun set on Thursday afternoon but changed over to freezing rain as the temperatures cooled overnight. The cold air pushed through the northern part of the valley in the early morning hours and the winds switched from south to north at 4 am Friday morning. We are expecting 4 to 6 inches of snow this Friday afternoon into the evening as the main energy of the storm enters North Dakota from the southwest. A 150 knot jet stream is forecasted to intensify the surface low pressure system throughout the afternoon and evening. A strong pressure gradient across eastern North Dakota will cause surface winds to increase to between 30 and 40 mph causing near zero visibilities overnight and into Saturday morning.

The Skypunch

Weather really is a beautiful thing. I think one of the most beautiful and underrated meteorological items is the cloud. It’s simple and everyone knows what it is, but then again it is not. There are many different types of clouds from the white puffy cumulus clouds, to the scary cumulonimbus storm clouds. But one cloud I found to be very interesting was the skypunch. A skypunch is a meteorological phenomena that happens when ice crystals form above high-altitude cirro-cumulo-stratus clouds, then fall downward, which then punches a hole in the cloud cover. There are many different names for this phenomena including fall streak hole, hole punch cloud, and canal cloud. Because of the rarity of this cloud, many people often blame unidentified flying objects, or UFOs for the skypunch. But no worries, it’s not an attack from other planets, it’s just another amazing sight caused by weather.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Woof Woof!

On Sunday, December 9th an atmospheric phenomena was seen in Grand Forks: the sun dog. It was a beautiful sight to see which made me curious as to what caused it. Well I did some research and found out that a sun dog is formed when by plate-shaped hexagonal ice crystals and cold cirrus clouds in high altitudes, or during very cold weather, by ice crystals called diamond dust drifting in the air at low levels. The crystals sink through the air and become vertically aligned, so sunlight is refracted horizontally and then sun dogs are seen. The sun dogs can move further from the sun as the sun gets higher, but they are always stay at the same elevation as the sun itself. Colors of the sun dogs change, with them being red closest to the sun and then becoming orange and then blue as they move further away.

Photo courtesy of Alec Thompson – Grand Forks, ND

-Stephanie Waldref

I’ll have a Caesar?

Well it finally happened. The biggest snowstorm in the past two years swept through parts of North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Thanks to The Weather Channel, this event will go down in history as Winter Storm Caesar. Think what you want about the name, the event however still managed to leave an impression.

Courtesy of Pioneer Press, St. Paul. Minnesota

The Weather CHANNEL began naming significant weather storms this year and like hurricanes, they will be named in alphabetical order.
Caesar greatly affected the Twin Cities Metropolitan area as dozens of snow emergencies were implemented and hundreds of accidents occurred.
According to the National Weather Service, Minneapolis/ St. Paul International Airport received over 10 inches of snow. In fact,this already doubles more than last years snowfall totals in the area as it only accumulated to 4.4 inches. If you are visiting the Twin Cities for the holidays, I’d bet to see a white Christmas!

Courtesy of the National Weather Service

You can see most of the snow fell in the heart of the Twin Cities and moved eastward along I-94 through Menomonie.

By some meteorologists, this is considered a perfect storm on how it shifted and developed. The main factors were its sudden shift of movement, cause the metropolitan area the biggest area to be hit. Second was the fact sub-zero cold air was able to sneak behind the system causing the storm to produce more snow to fall. Like any storm the slower it moves, the more damage or results are to occur. Here was the same case as it proceeded to continuously dump snow as it gradually moved across the state.

Don’t expect to not see any more snow this year as statistically, March is the month with the greatest snowfall in the upper mid-west. No time to relax either as GFS models are are already predicting snow later this week. Always remember to drive safe with these road conditions where ever you may go!

-Kellen Peters

Let It Snow

The holiday season is now upon us, and with it comes a mad rush to prepare. For many of us this means battling crowds at the malls and then traveling to spend the holidays with loved ones, all while hoping that the weather cooperates with our plans. Once we’ve made it to wherever we’re headed, it’s nice to just relax and watch the snow fly.

Now it’s one thing to have a few inches of snow to whiten the ground and make things look pretty for a while. It’s quite another to be pounded with heavy snow for a week straight. That’s what happened in and around Buffalo, New York beginning on Christmas Eve of 2001.

Lake effect snow band setting up near Buffalo, NY
(Photo courtesy of National Weather Service)

It had been a quiet season up until that day. The months of November and December had been unusually warm. Buffalo, which often finds itself in the bullseye of lake-effect snowstorms, is no stranger to heavy snowfall by this time of year. 2001 was different in that Buffalo had received less than two inches of snow for the entire season so far. Many people wondered if winter would ever arrive. On December 24 it did arrive, and it arrived with a vengeance!

Photo courtesy

A low pressure system formed over the Great Lakes and was essentially trapped in place for the next week. The result was a seemingly endless conveyor belt of snow that, when all was said and done, would end up producing some of the heaviest snowfall accumulations the area had ever witnessed. Most areas were measuring snow in feet. The entire metropolitan area surrounding Buffalo received two feet of snow or more. Areas closer to the city saw much more. Parts of the city of Buffalo were buried under more than five feet of snow. The heaviest accumulations occurred just east of the city however. At the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, where the National Weather Service office is located, 81.6 inches of snow fell – almost seven feet! Considering that Buffalo’s average annual snowfall is 93.6 inches, this was almost an entire year’s worth of snow in just one week. Below is a map showing the incredible amounts of snow that fell all across western New York.

Graphic courtesy of National Weather Service

Needless to say, removing this much snow from driveways, sidewalks, streets, and highways is no easy task. Simply plowing snow to the side of the road won’t work when the snow there is already several feet deep. Shoveling snow from a sidewalk would be even more difficult, involving digging through feet of it and then having to throw it nearly straight up. Getting back to normal for Buffalo required bulldozers, backhoes, and other heavy equipment to scoop snow and place it onto dump trucks which could then dump it outside of town.

Mike Lanciki

Photo courtesy

♫ I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas… ♪

While Irving Berlin may have been the one to write that famous song, it was Bing Crosby’s performance of it that made it famous back in the early 1940s. The song, along with the warm and sentimental images it conjures for many, has become a Christmas classic. For many people, a Christmas without snow just doesn’t feel like Christmas.

People who dream of a white Christmas are nearly sure to have their dreams come true here in the Red River Valley. While last year didn’t deliver, most years do. In fact, the National Weather Service (NWS) in Grand Forks reports on its website that Fargo has about an 84 percent chance of seeing a white Christmas in any given year. Those odds increase to around 90 percent for Grand Forks.

Photo courtesy

We can pretty much take a white Christmas for granted in our part of the world, but for many of our friends down south a white Christmas is little more than a dream. Dreams can come true though, and that’s exactly what happened for the people of Brownsville, Texas on Christmas of 2004.

Photo courtesy

Snow is nothing unusual for some parts of Texas, but in Brownsville it is truly something special. You see, Brownsville is located at the southernmost point of Texas, surrounded on three sides by Mexico. Palm trees and tropical plants abound and the weather is warm – if not downright hot – most of the time. According to the NWS office located in Brownsville, the Christmas 2004 snowfall was the first measurable snowfall received in that area in nearly 110 years. The fact that it happened on Christmas made it just that much more special for many who never imagined they would ever see a white Christmas.

Photo courtesy

While accumulations were small and short-lived, having a white Christmas in Brownsville was nothing short of amazing. It was truly a once in a lifetime event!

Mike Lanciki

Photo by Eric Barron – found at

Cold Enough For You?

Photo by Mike Lanciki

Doesn’t it seem like whenever this time of year rolls around there’s always that one person who just HAS to ask you that question? Despite my not being a North Dakota native, I’ve grown to love living here – despite the winters, which I’ll just describe as “character-building”. I always respond to the question in true Midwestern fashion: “It could be worse.”

Even though it’s -8° as I’m typing this, the forecast low for tonight here in Grand Forks is -16° and parts of the Red River Valley may even see temperatures around -20°. It sure is cold, but the truth is that it really could be worse. Much worse, in fact, when you consider that the all-time record low in Grand Forks was -42°, set on February 16, 1936. February 1936 was a particularly brutal month in these parts. According to climate data from, Grand Forks set eight record lows that month, four of which were in the -30s and the other four of which were in the -40s!


So why is the Red River Valley so cold? Some like to say that it’s Mother Nature’s way of keeping the riff-raff out, but the real answer lies in our geography. First, let’s consider the effects of our northerly latitude. Being located at 48° north of the equator means that during the shortest days of the winter we receive less than 8½ hours of daylight. The little bit of sunlight we see then isn’t very intense either, since the sun can be as little as 18° over the horizon at high noon, plus most of the radiation we receive from it is reflected back by the usual blanket of bright white snow. The next thing to consider is our topography. While our area can appear to be as flat as a pancake, we truly are in a valley; locations 20 miles east or west of us can be a few hundred feet higher than we are. Cold air is more dense than warmer air, and so it sinks to the lowest elevation. Since we just happen to be at the lowest elevation around, that means we’re the lucky ones who get stuck with it! Finally, North Dakota – specifically Rugby – is located at the dead center of our continent. Oceans have a moderating effect on climate, and being near one will usually cause an area to have milder winters and summers. We’re about as far from one as you can possibly get, so we’re far more prone to temperature extremes in both seasons.

In case all of this has you clicking your heels and saying “There’s no place like Arizona”, just remember that our reward comes in June when it’s nice and warm and our days are over 16 hours long.

Mike Lanciki

Winter Storm Caesar

Winter Storm Caesar is moving across the Upper Midwest, bringing areas of snow and chilling temperatures across the area. An upper level trough has dug south, providing the lift necessary to spark of the snowfall across Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

The heaviest storm total accumulations will occur in northeast South Dakota and central Minnesota moving into far northwest Wisconsin. Snow will continue through Sunday night into Monday morning, which could make morning commutes challenging. Strong winds will also produce blizzard like conditions which could reduce visibilities. A number of warnings have been issued, shown on the map below.

For Monday, add a few extra minutes onto your morning commute to make sure you arrive to your destination safely!

-Tracy Bartholome