We're used to the term "blizzard" in these parts.
Images of a Red River Valley "whiteout" come to mind. Closed freeways near Fargo. Jam packed truck stops in Alexandria. School closings in Morris.
But the images coming from the Texas Panhandle are eye opening, even ot hearty Minnesotans. Cars abandoned in snow choked streets? 5 foot snow drifts?
That's the stuff of Minnesota legend...not so much in Texas. Talk about a "Blue Norther."
Winter Storm "Rocky" delivered his punch to Texas, and is still swinging from Kansas to Chicago today. How much snow did Rocky dump?
Where do we stand in Minnesota for snowfall this season? And is our cold February a sign of a trend toward cooler months?
We'll take a look in this edition of Updraft.
19" snowfall total at Amarillo, Texas
75 mph wind gusts in Amarillo Monday
5 foot snow drifts
37F high in the Twin Cities Monday
7" snow depth at MSP this morning (we melted 1" yesterday)
-2.6F February temps vs. average so far at MSP Airport
+1.0F estimated temps vs. average overall at MSP this "meteorological winter" (Dec-Feb)
That may be the best way to describe what happened in Amarillo, Texas Monday.
The Amarillo NWS is calling the 3rd biggest blizzard on record at Amarillo "historic."
Check out the impressive snowfall totals over 1 foot....to as much as 19" on the map below.
This guy braved the height of the blizzard....75 mph winds and all. Really more of a "snow hurricane?"
The hurricane force winds whipped up snow drifts to 5 feet around Amarillo Monday.
I've made the drive from Arizona to Minnesota through the Texas Panhandle. That's one place you don't want to get caught in the open during a blizzard. There's simply no place to hide.
Rocky marches on:
Kansas City is still feeling the effects of Rocky today, where over 1 foot of snow will fall south of town.
It's snowing as far north as Des Moines and heavy snow is on I-35 near Lamoni.
High winds are pounding Chicago on the shore of Lake Michigan, and a slightly "less productive" storm will still produce some 3" to 6" snow totals.
Here are the forecast wind gusts from WGN's (my former Chicago gig) RPM model today.
How to dismantle a drought: 1 storm at a time
This storm is just the latest in a series of systems that has dumped productive rain and snow in the Central Plains over the past few months.
There has been enough rain...and snow to have an impact on drought conditions in Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois and even eastern Iowa.
Heavy snow in from Kansas to Missouri, Iowa and Illinois will feed melt water runoff into the Mississippi watershed this spring...and will help boost river levels. That's going to help ease the "hydrologic" part of the drought...at least in the short term this spring.
The latest drought outlook calls for some improvement in the drought over the central USA, with continued drought "persistence" in the West.
Basically the wetter pattern of the past 3 months in the central USA is "eating away" at the eastern end of the drought.
The agricultural or "soils" drought is more dependent on spring rainfall after the thaw.
February 2013 : Cooler trend emerging?
Today's Twin Cities NWS "Weather Story" highlights the fact that February 2013 was cooler than average in the metro. In fact it was just the 2nd cooler than average month in the past 21 months at MSP Airport.
But what caught my eye is that February was also the 2nd colder than average month in the past 5 months at MSP.
After the run of incredibly warm weather for over a year at MSP, the character of our weather changed last fall. October may have been the first signal of that change.
Looking ahead to March, it's likely that we may be colder than average the first half of the month.
If March finishes colder than average (as I suspect it might) that will make 3 of the past 6 months colder than average in the metro and Minnesota.
Start of a trend? Too early to tell but definitely a "departure" from where we have been the past 2 years.
Foggy & Smoggy
It's called a "temperature inversion."
A warmer layer of air about 4,000 feet above our heads trapped pollutants near the ground, and caused the MPCA Air Quality Index (AQI) to spike early Tuesday.
In this edition of Updraft we look at how the inversion helped our foggy & smoggy starts this week, the prospects for breathing easier. We also track "Rocky" as it dumps on Iowa & Chicago...and talk about our prospects for more snow by next Monday.
Is it March yet?
Metro AQI "Spike:" Blame the inversion
"Buoyancy" is a concept we learn in metrology 101.
It's basic physics. Warm air rises. Basically air parcels rise until they encounter air that is warmer above. When that happens, we call that a "stable" situation.
Since temperatures usually cool with height above ground, warmer air aloft is called a "temperature inversion."
The trapping effect causes fog & smog to hang near ground level, and not "mix out" higher into the atmosphere as it does when no inversion is present.
Tuesday's inversion had multiple levels, but the main bubble of warm air is suspended abouyt 4,000 feet above our heads. Temps were in the 20s & 30s where we live, but it was a nicer day about 4k up with temps in the 40s.
Breathing easier later this week?
We've been breathing some quality arctic air this month in Minnesota. With a cold northwest flow most of this month you can see how the AQI has been excellent many days this month. There are very few pollutant sources between here and the Arctic Circle, and a cold northwest wind is not favorable for stagnant air and trapping effect.
The good news in the forecast this week is that our northerly wind flow will return, and that should shove some of our "particulate matter" south and bring in some fresh puffs of air from Canada.
Look for AQI numbers to fall to more healthy levels as the week wears on.
Rocky punches away:
After pounding the Texas Panhandle with an historic blizzard, Winter Storm "Rocky" is still punching away in Chicago.
Here's a nice radar overview of the storm courtesy of WSI.
Here are some early snow totals from Iowa, where snow crept as far north as Des Moines and Waterloo.
In Chicago, the storm has delivered it's worst punch in the west & northwest suburbs, McHenry County and Boone Counties are getting hit hard, with reports of 5"+ snow totals in 3 hours and high winds producing blizzard conditions.
NWS local storm reports confirm the ferocity of the storm slamming Chicago.
PRELIMINARY LOCAL STORM REPORT NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE CHICAGO/ROMEOVILLE IL 421 PM CST TUE FEB 26 2013
0406 PM SNOW CRYSTAL LAKE, IL M5.0 INCH
TRAINED SPOTTER. STORM TOTAL 5.0 INCHES. SEVERAL VEHICLES IN DITCHES.
0220 PM HEAVY SNOW POPLAR GROVE, IL M1.5 INCH BOONE TRAINED SPOTTER
STORM TOTAL AS OF 200PM. GROUND BLIZZARD IN OPEN AREAS. EAST WEST ORIENTED ROADS...PARTICULARLY RT 173 ARE DRIFTING OVER AND PRACTICALLY IMPASSABLE. ALSO VERY ICY ROAD SURFACE LEADING NUMEROUS ACCIDENTS. VISIBILITY AT TIME OF REPORT 1/4 TO 1/2 MILE.
Storm totals of 5" to 10" of wind whipped snow will blast Chicago's north & west suburbs creating near blizzard conditions overnight.
Scanning the forecast maps: Snow possible next Monday?
Our weather looks quiet in Minnesota for the next few days.
Looking ahead to next week, there appears to be some chance of snow next Monday, according to the GFS model and more recently supported by the Euro.
The system appears ot be coming from the northwest...so it may not be a major storm, but there is a chance we could see a dusting to a few inches next Monday.