There's no sugar coating it. The next four to five days will be one of the most brutal stretches of winter weather many of us have ever seen. There's two rounds of light snow. Okay, we can handle that. But, one of them will be a full-fledged blizzard. Yuck. An abrupt drop in temperatures from the low 20s to throwing a minus sign in front of that 20 by Monday morning. Then we'll do it again Tuesday morning. Still following what we have coming our way? It's a lot.
First let's start about how this winter has gone so far. There's no surprise it's one of the coldest we've seen in decades. For Rochester, MN (the official climate station for SE Minnesota) the last time we started winter so cold was the 1983/84 season. So far we've had 25 days reach subzero readings. That puts us in the top ten for number of subzero days to start a season (Thru Jan 24) In comparison, last winter had 12 for the entire season.
The average temperature this winter, through Jan 22 has been 10.5°, behind the seasonal normal of 17.6°. It's the 11th coldest start to winter, again coldest since the 1983/84 season.
It's not going to get any better either with another bitter blast of air arriving early next week. First, things first though. We have some snow to deal with.
A round of light snow is moving through tonight. 1.0 to 1.5" is expected by early Saturday morning. With temperatures in the 30s today, this is a 'wetter' variety of snow. More sticking. More clumping. Less Blowing. There is a breeze, gusting to 35 mph at times tonight but given the consistency of the snow, it won't be strong enough to cause a blizzard. Blowing snow over roadways? Certainly. Blizzard? No.
A fetch of clearing for Saturday will make it look nice outside, but it will be cold. We'll spend most of the day in the single digits.
Another potent Albert Clipper will glide into the area Saturday night into Sunday morning. 1 - 4" of snow is possible by Sunday afternoon, most of it falling by Sunday morning. Shown below is a computer model output at 3 AM Sunday, when the most intense band of snow will move through, depicted by the color contouring.
Then come the trailing winds. As is typical with clippers, the strongest wind trails the area of low pressure, being squeezed by an incoming arctic high. In this setup, with the cold air rushing in on the backside, a strong downward momentum transfer is seen, bringing some of the stronger winds to the surface. In this computer model at 6pm Sunday, the light blue lines running north/south are isobars. The tighter these lines are grouped together, the stronger the wind will be.
...and gusts to 45-50 mph will bring white out conditions to the flat lands and ridge tops of SE Minnesota and northern Iowa. Dangerous travel conditions are expected. A Blizzard Watch and Winter Storm Watch are in place for Sunday.
The same time the wind is picking up Sunday, is the same time the extreme cold starts punching into Minnesota and Iowa. A powerful trailing cold front will send temperature plunging. Temperatures drop from the low to mid 20s Sunday to the low 20s below zero by Monday morning... a temperature drop of 40 to 45 degrees in a few hours. Wind Chills will likely drop to near -50°. Then we'll do the cold thing again Tuesday.
This is the kind of cold we already experienced earlier this month. Back on January 4th, similarly cold marks were seen with temps -24 to -20 and wind chills exceeding -50°.
Beginning Sunday afternoon, temperatures will go below zero, and we won't come back up for air until Wednesday afternoon. We're looking at some 60+ hours straight of below zero temperatures.
Extreme care is going to be needed in this extreme cold. Sometimes we take our modern conveniences for granted. It'll always be safe inside your home with the heat set to 70° or in your car with the fan cranked to high. However, the danger isn't for the normal scenario. If you spin out into the ditch, your car becomes disabled, you lose power at the wrong time, get locked out of the house while you run outside to the car ill-prepared to grab your phone you forgot in the console, these are the times where it becomes dangerous.
Dress accordingly in these extreme conditions. Layers are key. It's not the bulky items that keep you warm. The insulating factor is in the small pockets of air in between layers. Have a winter weather preparedness kit, both in your car and in your home. If you need some help preparing these kits, visit this link.
Be safe, be smart.
Storm Tracker 6 Chief Meteorologist