Beautiful, dangerous winter.
The season quit kidding around and booted up Saturday to deliver two potent punches to much of Minnesota. First will come a storm carrying several inches of snow, followed by an invasion of arctic air the likes of which we haven’t seen in more than 20 years, with windchills as low as 60 below.
Or, as Joe Calderone, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Chanhassen office, put it: “Instantaneous frostbite.”
For once, the Twin Cities is right smack in the middle of the winter storm warning zone. Starting Sunday afternoon and running into Monday, it will get 6 to 8 inches of snow — light, pretty stuff tossed around by winds gusting up to 35 miles per hour, the Weather Service said. Sunday’s high will be 8 above, with a windchill of 14 below.
Saturday morning brought a prelude, with light snow making for tricky driving. According to the State Patrol, there were 423 crashes statewide between 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. — 46 with injuries and one fatality in Blue Earth. In addition, 106 vehicles spun out or veered off roads.
Sunday’s storm will further test drivers.
“The Monday morning commute will be a challenge,” said MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht. “The good news about this snow is that they’re saying it’ll be low-moisture, so there won’t be as much compaction. Still, we can’t say it enough — drivers really need to slow down.”
Cities under the winter storm warning include Morris, Willmar, St. Cloud, the Twin Cities, Red Wing, Rochester, Albert Lea and Mankato, as well as Eau Claire and Rice Lake in Wisconsin. Communities to the northeast and southwest of that band will get slightly less snow, with northeastern Minnesota largely unaffected.
After the snowstorm leaves everything bright and beautiful, dangerous cold will slide in. The midweek cold spell will rival the frigid February of 1996, which closed schools and challenged septic systems, car batteries and guys who wear shorts no matter what.
This arctic surge will have one feature the 1996 spell didn’t — winds of 10 to 15 mph Tuesday night and Wednesday. That will yield windchills of 45 below in the metro and up to 60 below in rural areas, where the wind has more room to build, Calderone said. Winds will die down a bit Wednesday night and Thursday.
Tuesday’s high will be 7 below, and Wednesday’s will be 12 below, with Thursday “warming up” to a high of 5 below, Calderone said.
“Stay inside,” he advised. “Keep your pets inside. Telecommute. If you really have to go out, dress in layers, and make sure you have emergency gear in your car.”
If it’s any comfort, he said, “we’re not looking at setting records here.” For the record, here are the record lows recorded at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport — 29 below for Jan. 29, set in 1951; 30 below for Jan. 30, set in 1887, and 27 below for Jan. 31, also set in 1887.
On Friday, Gov. Tim Walz said his staff is monitoring the forecast, but that he’s likely to leave decisions about whether to close schools to individual districts and superintendents rather than to shut down all schools in the state, as happened in a 2014 cold spell.
Whiteouts and black ice
For drivers whose cars actually start, the cold will be just as fraught with hazards as the snow. Road salt doesn’t work well in profound cold, Gutknecht said. Wind will whip the fresh snow around, reducing visibility, and intersections will be treacherous, as water, one of the byproducts of internal combustion, drips from tailpipes.
“Black ice, big time,” Gutknecht said, repeating his mantra: “The bottom line is, you’ve got to slow down.”
While some regarded the forecast with dread, winter lovers were delighted. Deb Schaber, president and CEO of the St. Paul Winter Carnival, said Saturday’s light snowfall and cold were ideal for the day’s highlights — ice-carving in Kellogg Mall Park and snow-sculpting at the State Fairgrounds.
There was absolutely no danger of melting.
“We’re excited for the snow,” Schaber said. “We haven’t had enough so far. We even had to haul in some for this weekend.”
She urged people to come out for Sunday’s events, which will include live outdoor jazz at the park from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. If the feeling disappears from your hands and feet, there are warming tents nearby, she said.
As for whether the coming cold will lead to event cancellations, Schaber said carnival organizers will assess conditions and make decisions 24 hours ahead of time.
“The carnival has been around for 133 years, and we’ve had all kinds of weather,” she said. “We’re used to it.”