Where was our snow? Weather Service says sorry

It was supposed to be the biggest snowstorm Twin Cities has seen in more than six years. Instead of a crippling snowfall, as the National Weather Service had predicted all week, nary flake fell across the metro.But 50 miles to the southeast, where the storm...

Where was our snow? Weather Service says sorry

It was supposed to be the biggest snowstorm Twin Cities has seen in more than six years. Instead of a crippling snowfall, as the National Weather Service had predicted all week, nary flake fell across the metro.

But 50 miles to the southeast, where the storm Thursday night into Friday morning struck with vengeance, residents spent the day digging out from more than a foot of snow that accumulated in places.

Sorry about that, the weather service said in a letter to Minnesota and Wisconsin residents posted on social media Friday afternoon, as it explained the tricky nature of predicting such storms.

“We realize many people made or changed plans based on our forecasts,” the letter read. “We sympathize with those of you out there who are disappointed with the initial forecasts that didn’t work out. We promise to evaluate our messaging and forecasts this week, and continually work to provide you with the best information we possibly can.”

While the storm missed the metro and places desperate for snow, such as Cable, Wis. where this weekend’s American Birkebeiner ski races were called off, the forecast for extreme snow came true across south central and southeastern Minnesota where schools and businesses closed and MnDOT to advise motorists to take it slow.

The big storm didn’t miss the metro by much, the weather service pointed out. “There is also a remarkably small transition zone from heavy snow to absolutely zero snowfall.” Raymond Grumney Graphic: Interactive: Snowfall forecast

    Flakes came as close as Hastings in the far southeastern part of the metro and up to an inch fell just across the border in the Wisconsin towns of River Falls and Roberts. Just a few miles to the south, the landscape was a winter wonderland in places such as Red Wing, Faribault, Northfield, Owatonna, Rochester and Winona.

    From the metro, “you can drive south on I-35 and might say, ‘What is the fuss?’,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Griesinger. “Then you hit the Northfield exit and it turns white and by Faribault you have over 8 inches on the ground. Conditions got bad pretty quick.”

    All week the weather service predicted a “potent storm” with 10 to 12 inches falling across the southern half of Minnesota. Even as late as Wednesday into Thursday models were predicting heavy snow in the Twin Cities.

    By midday Thursday, the forecast changed, storm warnings for the metro were downgraded and enough dry air mixed in to push the storm south. “These are quite difficult to pin down even hours before the snow begins,” the weather service’s letter said.

    Nobody was taking exception with the forecast in places such as Mankato, Jackson, Fairmont, Rochester, Worthington and Albert Lea where blizzard warnings remained in effect Friday afternoon. Winds gusting as high as 35 miles per hour were blowing the freshly fallen snow around. That combination has created tough conditions on the roads. Between midnight and 11 a.m., the State Patrol had responded to 287 crashes and 208 vehicles that has spun out or went off the road statewide. A majority of those were in the southeastern part of the state, including a tanker that rollover on westbound I-90 in Olmsted County and had the freeway shut down for a couple hours.

    MnDOT on Friday morning lifted a no travel advisory that had been in place across the southern tiers of counties and stretching from Jackson County in the southwestern part of the state to as far north as southern Scott County and east to the Mississippi River.

    “Travel speeds are slow with drifting and snow compaction on the state highways,” the agency said.

    In hard-hit Rochester, which saw 12 inches of snow with the possibility of up to 3 more on the way, the city bus and paratransit service was suspended Friday “due to safety concerns,” Rochester Public Transit said. Rochester City Lines canceled its regional commuter bus service for Friday.

    “We got whacked,” said Rob Miller, president of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, whose offices were closed Friday.

    Other place got more than Rochester. Kenyon in Goodhue County was the snowfall leader with 14 inches. Mapleton in Blue Earth County was second with 12.7 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Close behind was Goodhue with 12.5 inches, Waseca with 11.6 inches, 11.5 inches in Elgin, 11 in Wabasha, 10 inches in Pine Island and Zumbrota and 9 inches in Owatonna. Across the border, about 9 inches had fallen near Eau Claire, Wis. Places as close to the Twin Cities such as Baldwin, River Falls and Roberts saw anywhere from half an inch to 1.5 inches, the weather service said.

    Students in Blue Earth, Byron, Cannon Falls, Fairmont, Faribault, Mankato, Pine Island, Rochester, St. Peter, Wabasha and Winona got an unplanned day off school. St. Mary’s University and Winona State University and Minnesota State University, Mankato, also called off classes. Some businesses also closed for the day.

    Throughout the day Friday, another band of snow will move across southern Minnesota, but it won’t be as intense as the storm that rolled across the southern counties over night, Griesinger said.

    Some of that snow could make it to the metro with up to a half inch possible, but it’s only a 50-50 probability, the weather service said.

    The weekend will be calmer with above normal temperatures, but not 20 to 25 degrees warmer than usual as it was earlier in the week when temperature records were set in the Twin Cities. “It will just be 5 to 10 degrees above normal,” Griesinger said.

    Mostly sunny to partly sunny conditions will prevail in the metro Saturday through Monday with highs around 33 on Saturday rising to the low 40s by Monday. The next chance of precipitation will come Monday night into Tuesday when a mix of rain and snow is forecast, the weather service said.


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