The groundhog’s prediction of an early spring this year was wrong. Way wrong.
Another round of snow Friday will usher in an Arctic blast that will get March off to one of the coldest starts ever in the Twin Cities. By Sunday and Monday, high temperatures will struggle to crack the zero mark, and the mercury will sink to lows rarely seen during the first week of March.
Temperatures of 10 below or lower during the first seven days of the month have occurred only four times in the metro area in nearly 50 years, said state climatologist Luigi Romolo. But it can get brutally cold, as it did on March 1, 1962, when the metro saw its coldest March reading ever at 32 below.
The last time the metro area saw double-digit lows was in 2014, when the thermometer reading fell to minus 15 on March 2 and minus 10 on March 3.
In an unrelenting winter that has seen the return of the polar vortex in January and the snowiest February on record in the Twin Cities, subzero temperatures should not be a surprise. March looks to come in like a “very cold lion,” the National Weather Service said.
“We have a hefty snowpack, and that keeps the air cold,” said meteorologist Brent Hewett with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen. “It makes it hard to warm up.”
The Twin Cities had 19 inches of snow on the ground as of Wednesday morning, helped by a quick-moving clipper that dropped 2.8 inches from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. That is about half of the 42 inches on the ground in Baldwin, Wis., just across the St. Croix River, which has the greatest snow depth locally, said Pete Boulay of the Minnesota State Climatology Office.
The recent snowfall pushed the monthly total at the airport to 39 inches. That made February the fourth-snowiest month ever in the Twin Cities in the nearly 150 years that weather records have been kept. Only the fact that this isn’t a leap year will keep February from moving higher on the charts. Still, it was long enough to set three daily snowfall records at MSP and push the seasonal total to 58.6 inches, four more than the seasonal average of 54.4 inches, the National Weather Service said.
The late-season polar plunge does come with a consolation prize, Hewett added. After Friday, the sun will come out and is likely to stay for more than a few hours or a day at a time.
“It stays dry through late next week,” Hewett said. “We should not see any snowflakes.”
Folks have seen plenty of them in western Wisconsin and especially Eau Claire. This month the town about 90 miles east of the Twin Cities has piled up 53 inches of snow, smashing the previous record for February of 28.3 inches set in 1936. Also setting a record was St. Cloud with 27 inches for the month.
Minnesota isn’t the only place where winter won’t release its tenacious grip. The Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center forecasts a very high likelihood of below-normal temperatures stretching coast to coast during the first two weeks of March. The only exceptions are in Alaska, south Florida and along the border of New Mexico and Arizona, where readings have a better than 50-50 chance of being above average.
With the surge of dangerous cold hitting for the weekend and requisite windchill advisories likely to come, Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog, may want to stay buried underground and out of sight of the winter-weary. This year the world-famous rodent predicted an early spring for only the 19th time in the past 133 years.
“That groundhog lied big time,” Darla Kohler Dugas wrote on the National Weather Service’s Facebook page.
The local long-range forecast calls for well below average temperatures for the first half of the month and only a slight moderation by month’s end. By then temperatures should routinely be in the mid-30s for highs but will likely stay in the 20s to around 30 degrees. As to when it might warm up with even a hint of spring?
“Not right away,” Hewett said.