Blizzard could drop record April snowfall in northern Plains this week

WEATHER NEWS: Blizzard could drop record April snowfall in northern Plains this week

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A paralyzing spring snowstorm is raging Wednesday across the northern Plains after dumping as much as two to three feet of snow in Montana to start the workweek. In North Dakota, many places have seen about 10 to 18 inches, with totals growing by the hour and snow drifts — towering heaps of wind-sculpted snow — topping several feet.

Blizzard warnings remain in effect for most of North Dakota, as well as portions of Montana and South Dakota into Thursday. Wind gusts of 50-plus mph are expected again Wednesday in the region, kicking up huge snow drifts and making travel impossible thanks to blowing snow and extremely low visibility.

Heavy snowfall persists Wednesday across North Dakota and into the prairies of Manitoba in southern Canada Wednesday night, before slowly winding down and pulling away to the northeast Thursday. Some areas could see an additional foot and a half of snow by that time, bringing totals close to a historic 30 inches in parts of the northern Plains.

The same sprawling storm responsible for tornadoes in the Midwest and Plains on Tuesday, as well as additional severe weather Wednesday, is causing the blizzard across the northern tier of the country.

Known in the meteorological world as a Colorado Low, the surface low-pressure center tracked from the High Plains of Colorado on Tuesday, across Nebraska last night and into southern Minnesota on Wednesday, where it is stalling out for the time being.

On the northwest side of the storm system, temperatures Wednesday are in the teens and 20s, some 20 to 30 degrees below normal, fostering this major spring snowstorm.

This U.S. town sees as many as a dozen blizzards each year. It’s also a desert.

Cold high pressure to the north and west, which is responsible for the readings well below freezing, is also acting to tighten up a pressure gradient across the region. The rapid change in pressure from high to low enhances the winds, leading to blizzard conditions.

“A significant blizzard will continue to impact the region today,” wrote the Weather Service office in Bismarck. “Travel will continue to be difficult to impossible with snow drifts across roads and very poor visibility.”

As of Wednesday morning, the North Dakota Department of Transportation reports that most of the state is under a “no travel advisory,” with the main west to east Interstate — I-94 — closed from the Montana border to Jamestown.

A snow emergency is in effect for Bismarck, where at least 12 inches of snow had fallen with the storm as of 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, and continues to fall. A report of 13 inches in the northern part of the city also indicated snow drifts to three feet. The record April snowfall of 17.8 inches is certainly in reach, given a forecast of 3 to 7 additional inches via the Weather Service.

More recent reports to the National Weather Service include 18 inches to the northwest of Bismarck, near Stanton, N.D., with snow drifts of 4 to 5 feet deep. A report of 19 inches also came in from western parts of the state, along I-94, in the town of Taylor.

A number of other measurements of 15 inches or greater have also been noted as snow continues across much of the state Wednesday morning.

Farther west, the plains of Montana have generally seen up to a foot or a foot and a half of snow, including 15 inches in Billings and 13 inches near St. Phillip in the east of the state. Mountainous locations picked up as much as 36 to 47 inches near Pony, and around 2 feet near Nye.

Snow and unusually cold weather has also been occurring in the Rockies of Colorado and Wyoming. A low temperature of at least 10 degrees in Denver broke a record for the date, one of a number to fall in the region in the morning and recent days.

Not unheard of, but on the late side

Bismarck’s biggest snowstorms have all happened in the spring or fall. Given its northern latitude, much of winter features such frigid and dry air that significant snowstorms are much less possible.

The shoulder seasons provide the opportunity to go big across the region. The biggest April snowfall in the city was 17.8 inches, in 2013. The city’s biggest all-time three-day storm came in November 1993, when 23.5 inches fell (several inches fell in the days after, as well). A similar Colorado Low also slammed the region, shutting down portions of the state for several days, in early April 1997.

This storm is still coming on the late side of normal for the region. The 10 inches recorded there Tuesday was the third most for one day so late in the year, with only 1984 and 2013 featuring bigger one-day snowfalls later in the season.

While impacts can linger for several days after a storm such as this, the strong April sun tends to eat up the snow fairly quickly. By next week it’s nothing more than a memory.

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