Potentially historic winter storm strikes North Dakota

Deep snow, high winds expected

“Get prepared and be prepared to lose power or be snowed in for a few days,” said Meteorologist Jeffrey Schild with the National Weather Service in Bismarck.

During a webinar conducted with media and first responders prior to the noon hour Wednesday, Schild outlined what can be expected from the first major snowstorm of the season. The NWS refers to the event as “potentially historic,” saying it will deliver a one-two punch over the next few days.

“Some areas may not even notice snow shutting down,” remarked Schild. “This is a storm we are concerned about quite a bit.”

This early season storm, named “Aubrey” by the Weather Channel, has the potential to have even greater adverse impact than an October 2005 blast that clobbered much of the state. In that year the thermometer reached 96 degrees in Killdeer and three days later there was 21 inches of snow on the ground. Thousands of North Dakotans were left without power.

“This is similar to that storm,” warned J.P. Martin, Bismarck NWS. “Only a bigger area of North Dakota will be impacted. I would expect tens of thousands of people without power if this comes to a reality. There’s a very high risk of power lines loading up with wet snow and arcing in high winds.”

Many areas of the state are expected to receive up to a foot of snow from what the NWS describes as the first of two back-to-back storms. The second storm will dump another foot or more of snow.

As of Wednesday afternoon it appeared that Devils Lake would be smack dab in the middle, bearing the brunt of both storms. That city could see nearly 9 inches of snow on the ground by Thursday evening and, possibly, 30 inches or more by Sunday.

How much snow Minot will receive is dependent upon temperature, but projections are for up to 14 inches by Sunday. Some of that precipitation, however, could be rainfall rather than snow. According to the NWS, the moisture content from the storm will range from one to three inches across the state.

While no freezing rain or sleet is expected, snow or rain falling on warm ground can be expected to freeze as temperatures dip well below 32 degrees. That factor, combined with snow falling at the rate of up to two inches per hour and very high winds, will impact travel.

“We’re concerned about a blizzard developing with strong wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour,” said Schild. “Travel plans will probably have to be changed. Travel will be difficult to impossible.”

While Minot braces for the first of the “one-two punch” storm, the region likely will escape the worst of the second punch. That storm, virtually indistinguishable from the first, will sweep northward somewhat east of Minot.

“That second wave is actually a low from the Wyoming area,” explained Schild. “It’ll move into the Red River Valley area and actually sit there for a little bit.”

The 2005 storm resulted in thousands of tree branches breaking in Minot. Heavy, wet snow clinging to leaves still on the trees proved to be too much weight, resulting in limb breakage. Similar conditions exist with this storm with an estimated 90 percent of leaves still on trees in the city.

Minot’s forecast calls for wind gusts in excess of 30 mph today and 40 mph or more Friday. The NWS advises using extreme caution with this storm and frequent checking of weather forecasts.

The NWS added during Wednesday’s webinar that overnight low temperatures will remain in the 20s and low 30s early next week. The 10-day outlook, said the NWS, remains on the cool side as well and therefore melt runoff from this storm is not expected to have much of an impact on rivers and streams.

“We expect this snow to eventually go away,” said Schild. “It’ll be a slow melt but no major flooding concerns at this time.”


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