Will it be snow or freezing rain?

Published 8:54 am Thursday, December 24, 2009

While Santa Claus might be coming from the north, a major winter storm is lumbering into southern Minnesota from the south.

While a winter storm warning from the National Weather Service predicts 16 to 22 inches across much of central and southern Minnesota, KIMT meteorologist Adam Frederick said he thinks that forecast is over the top.

Frederick said the National Weather Service is forecasting the storm’s potential, and he is forecasting precisely what will happen. He said he thinks the region will see amounts of rain, freezing rain or sleet, which will reduce the snowfall total.

Email newsletter signup

He said for every 10th of an inch of the wet stuff, it reduces by about 1 1/2 inch the amount of the white stuff. And that variation depends on how close the temperatures will be to the freezing mark.

“The trick with the whole thing is a 1- to 2-degree variation is going to make all the difference in the world,” Frederick said.

The forecast calls for winds from the east because Minnesota is at the top of the storm, which comes up north from the Southwest. Minnesota is more used to storms heading from the Rockies or out of Alberta or the Arctic.

The low pressure ramps in dry air from the north, so temperatures will fall as the storm progresses, Frederick said.

The region will see who is right. So far, Albert Lea has had about 4 1/2 inches of snow from this storm. Owatonna reports 5 and Prior Lake 8 1/2.

Will Albert Lea get snow by the foot or will it get less snow because freezing rain falls?

Either way, it sure was busy at Hy-Vee Foods on Wednesday. Store Manager Al Weisert said the holidays are a good time for the grocery business. Many people were there from out of town visiting relatives and getting prepared to celebrate Christmas. And that means cooking for relatives.

Travelers were canceling plans because of the snow. People at the store could be overheard talking about staying home with family instead of going to see relatives in other cities. One woman said her family simply moved their Christmas plans to New Year’s Day.

Albert Lea resident Clint Miller, owner of the B&B Cafe, said the snowstorm hasn’t impacted his family. He and his wife had planned on having the cafe closed today and Friday and most of their family lives locally. B&B Cafe is open again on Saturday.

A Quality Cab’s Hugh Cornick said the snowstorm — or any wintry weather, for that matter — is good for his taxi service.

“When it snows, our business increases conisderably,” Cornick said.

He said the Christmas holiday doesn’t increase business but New Year’s sure does.

While there have been some automobiles spinning into ditches or snowdrifts and a few fenders bent in southern Minnesota, the area hasn’t seen any injuries in the Albert Lea area.

The closest report from the Minnesota State Patrol in the past few days was a serious injury north of Beauford on Minnesota Highway 22 on Wednesday.

The State Patrol reports that a head-on crash occurred when a northbound Mazda B4000 lost control and spun into a southbound Chevy Silverado. David Langford, a 42-year-old man from Winnebago, suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Others in the incident were James Schmidt of Mapleton, Nicholas Vivone of Iowa, and Cortney Langford of Winnebago. Assisting were Minnesota Department of Transportation, Mayo Air Care and Minnesota Lake Ambulance.

Interstate 90 experienced traffic injuries near Worthington the past few days because of icy roads.

There was an injury rollover Wednesday at the Heron Lake exit west of Jackson. On Tuesday, only a few miles away on I-90, there was another injury rollover at the Round Lake exit, east of Worthington. Also Tuesday, there was an injury caused by a rollover just east of Adrian. Highway 60 south of Worthington was the site of a serious injury when one car skidded into the path of another.

The State Patrol says troopers expect the roads to begin to deteriorate as the storm builds today and on Christmas. Troopers who were to be off on Friday are now on standby if the call-load increases.

“It’s kind of hard to stay on the roads. You’ve got to go slow,” said Jason Juhan, a clerk at the Love’s truck stop in Goodland, Kan. “People are just trying to get through and get to where they need to as fast as they can.”

Still, he saw an upside: “It’s been a few years since we’ve actually had a white Christmas out this way.”

The National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings early Thursday for Kansas, western North Dakota, northern Minnesota and northwestern Nebraska. It cautioned that travel would be extremely dangerous in those areas through the weekend and that anyone taking to the road should pack a winter survival kit including flashlight and water in case of emergency.

It also warned of strong winds and more snow with poor visibility in South Dakota, particularly in the west. Rain, sleet and snow were forecast in western Iowa and Wisconsin.

“It’s an unusually large storm, even for the Plains,” said Scott Whitmore, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Topeka said.

The storm began in the Southwest — where blizzard-like conditions shut down roads and caused a pileup involving 20 vehicles in Arizona on Tuesday — and spread east and north, prompting weather advisories from the Rocky Mountains to Lake Michigan. Rain, freezing drizzle and snow that fell in parts of the Plains and Midwest on Wednesday were just a precursor to what was expected later in the week.

On Wednesday, more than 200 flights at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport were canceled, along with about 60 flights out of Midway International Airport, the city’s Aviation Department said.

Mollie Sheridan, a 30-year-old artist from Philadelphia, had planned to fly to Ohio to be with her family for Christmas. Instead she was trying to sleep on a row of seats at Midway after Southwest Airlines canceled dozens of flights, including hers. She said her father was driving to Chicago to pick her up.

“I’m not that frustrated,” Sheridan said. “I have a dad who loves me who’s coming to get me. It hasn’t spoiled my Christmas.”

With temperatures in the low 30s early Thursday, the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives said more than 1,300 customers statewide were without power.

The storm forced the closure of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, and prompted that state’s governor, Mike Rounds, to cancel travel plans and stay in Pierre for Christmas. Rounds declared a state of emergency Tuesday before the storm even hit.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

email author More by Tim