After experiencing warmer than average weather around the Minot area for Christmas, the real North Dakota winter has returned as temperatures begin to plunge and visibility diminishes.
A National Weather Service blizzard warning remained in effect Saturday until 7 p.m. and a wind chill warning remains in effect from that 7 p.m. blizzard warning cutoff until noon today.
But Patrick Ayd, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Bismarck office, said Saturday afternoon that the blizzard warning could be pulled early.
A combination of snow and high winds led to very poor visibility in the Minot area Saturday. Conditions worsened noticeably about mid-morning as the National Weather Service issued both blizzard and wind chill warnings. These fishermen were participating in an ice fishing derby Saturday at Buffalo Lodge Lake near Granville.
"Conditions are improving rapidly across the west and north central portions of North Dakota," Ayd said in an interview. "More than likely the warning will be pulled early. Basically for the rest of (Saturday) afternoon and early evening the conditions will really remain in effect in the Red River Valley and James River valley, basically the eastern third of the state."
He said that predicting the visibility problems experienced in the Minot area on Saturday offered some difficulty because the warmer temperatures in the preceeding days had developed a crust on the snow.
Predicting visibility conditions, which were unrestricted and estimated at 10 miles in the Minot area by 4:30 p.m. Saturday, is to factor in several variables. Those variables include noting the condition of the snow already lying on the ground.
If the snow is light and fluffy then strong winds will easily blow it about producing the effects of a whiteout. Otherwise, winds would have to be fairly strong to burst through a crust.
Other factors include the intensity of new snow fall and how that will interact with the winds.
Going into the next few days, visibility should be clearer because, Ayd said, "there may still be some low drifting snow but otherwise there is unrestricted visibility."
What is going to effect the region, though, is the early showing of an arctic air mass, something that usually comes in January.
"We're going to be dealing with an arctic air mass into next week," he said. "Minot isn't looking to get above zero until at least Wednesday. Overnight lows are going to range to 10 to 20 below in the Minot area and even colder as you get closer to the international border."
That leaves the potential for dangerous windchill until Wednesday night through the north central portions of the state, which includes Minot, out to the eastern part of the state.
But it should be a little warmer to those farther west in the Williston and Watford City areas. The area around the Montana border is the western edge of the current arctic air mass that is effecting the region.
"We're not looking at any record lows," Ayd said, later adding that the weather is "nothing out of the ordinary but it's certainly not pleasant, either."