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Thursday, March 29, 2018

20 Year Anniversary of Historical March Tornado Outbreak

20 Year Anniversary of Historical March Tornado Outbreak:

Over the afternoon and early evening of Sunday, March 29, 1998 from 2:30 p m to 6:30 pm a widespread severe weather outbreak occurred across southwestern, south-central, southeastern, and central Minnesota counties.

Over 40 reports of large hail (up to 4.5 inch diameter in Nicollet County) came into the National Weather Service, and severe hail damage was reported to cars and trucks in Rochester.

Dozens of reports of strong winds (over 50 mph) were associated with thunderstorm supercells.

There were 14 confirmed tornadoes, the worst episode of March tornadoes in state history (and there have only been 10 tornado days during March in Minnesota history). Among these 14 tornadoes, an F4 (wind over 207 mph) was on the ground for 77 minutes and traveled 67 miles (Murray to Nicollet County). It was over a mile wide vortex at times. An F3 (winds 158-206 mph) tornado damaged many buildings in St Peter and on the Gustavus Adolphus College campus. Four F2 (113-157 mph) tornadoes caused damages in trailer parks, killed cattle in rural areas, and produced a good deal of structural damage in Le Center. Four F1 tornadoes (73-112 mph) caused damage to trees and rural buildings; and four F0 (winds 48-72 mph) tornadoes, mostly short-lived, were scattered across the landscape as well, the last one for the day in Wabasha County. Two days later on March 31 there was heavy snow and a blizzard warning issued for western Minnesota counties as a polar front invaded the Minnesota landscape.

These tornadoes caused just two deaths and 21 injuries—thanks to detailed forecasting by the NWS, acknowledged by many Minnesota citizens to be a superb job—but total estimated damages was in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Further details from NOAA National Weather Service StormReports included the following:

F4 tornado hit parts of Murray, Cottonwood, Brown, Watonwan, Blue Earth, and Nicollet Counties. Most damage in Comfrey where 75% of structures were damaged, including the town hall; 100 people left homeless, 50 homes destroyed, school heavily damaged, and over 500 dairy cows killed.

F3 tornado hit St Peter destroying 500 homes and damaging 1700 others. Thousands of trees uprooted. Gustavus Adolphus Campus denuded of trees, and nearly 70% of all windows broken; hospital and churches damages, roof torn off library and 25% of the books were damaged, dozens of farms and rural homes were damaged as well.

Following these destructive storms there was a fourfold increase in the use of NOAA Weather Radio across the state of Minnesota as a means to provide all resides with timely information on severe weather watches and warnings.

A Footnote on Community Resilience in St Peter, MN: The storm struck on Sunday, March 29th precisely two weeks before Easter Sunday (April 12). The Catholic Church of St Peter was destroyed and not usable. So the congregation of First Lutheran Church in St Peter volunteered to share their building, and a joint Lutheran and Catholic Easter Service was held on April 12th. Thereafter for 2.5 years Catholic and Lutheran Services were alternately scheduled at the First Lutheran Church which also shared their building for Catholic weddings and funerals until November 2000 when a new church building for the Catholic Church of St Peter was consecrated and opened. There was a 20 year community remembrance held in St Peter on Thursday evening, March 29, 2018 hosted by former WCCO news anchor Don Shelby.

Preliminary March Climate Summary:

Average monthly temperatures around the state were either slightly below or slightly above normal by a degree or two. Extremes for the month were 59°F at Minnesota City (Winona County) on March 9th, and -16°F at Ely on the 10th. Minnesota reported the coldest temperature in the nation only four times.

Precipitation for the month was near normal, with greater abundance in western counties, and below normal values in some southern counties. Many southwestern Minnesota observers reported over 2.5 inches of precipitation and more expected to occur over this coming Friday and Saturday, the last two days of the month. Marshall, Winnebago, Vesta, and Canby reported over 20 inches of snow for the month, while some northeastern climate observers reported less than 4 inches.

Weekly Weather Potpourri:

Cherry blossoms are out in full force across Japan this week, making a beautiful blanket of pink across many landscapes. The BBC Weather Centre reported on this and displayed some beautiful pictures as well.

Meanwhile the National Park Service has pushed back the forecasted dates for peak cherry blossoms in the nation’s capital, Washington D. C. to the week of April 8-12, later than normal thanks to a cool temperature pattern.

A new study out of the University of Oklahoma examines the trends in surface water abundance among states across the USA. It finds that water poor states are seeing a decline in the surface area of waters, while water rich states are seeing an upward trend in surface water resources.

MPR listener question:

What were the temperature and dew point conditions in southern Minnesota leading up to the famous outbreak of tornadoes on March 29, 1998?


Strong southerly winds brought warm air and lots of moisture up from the south. Temperatures across the southern part of the state that afternoon were in the high 60s F to low 70s F, with dew points in the low 50s F. These are high values for late March (record dew points are in the upper 50s F), but not typically associated with tornado outbreaks. The latent energy from the higher than normal dew points probably contributed to the severe weather, but it was also driven by a high degree of atmospheric instability.

Twin Cities Almanac for March 30th:

The average MSP high temperature for this date is 49 degrees F (plus or minus 13 degrees F standard deviation), while the average low is 30 degrees F (plus or minus 10 degrees F standard deviation).

MSP Local Records for March 30th:

MSP records for this date include: highest daily maximum temperature of 83 degrees F in 1968; lowest daily maximum temperature of 15 degree F in 1969; lowest daily minimum temperature of -3 degrees F in 1923; highest daily minimum temperature of 54 degrees F in 1967; record precipitation of 1.51 inches in 1933. Record snowfall on this date is 2.4 inches in 1934.

Average dew point for March 30th is 27°F; the maximum dew point on this date is 57°F in 1943; and the minimum dew point on this date is -11°F in 1969.

All-time state records for March 30th:

The all-time state high temperature for today's date is 87 degrees F at New Ulm (Brown County) in 1968; the all-time state low for today's date is -28 degrees F at Thorhult (Beltrami County) in 1975. The all-time state record precipitation for this date is 3.39 inches at Park Rapids (Hubbard County) in 1933. Record snowfall is 16.0 inches at Winona (Winona County) in 1934, one of the heaviest snows of the Dust Bowl Era.

Past Weather Features:

Early season thunderstorms brought heavy rains to many parts of Minnesota on March 30, 1933. Many areas reported over 1 inch of rain and some observers reported hail as well. Both Itasca State Park and Cass Lake reported over 2 inches of rain.

A winter storm rolled across southern Minnesota over March 29-30, 1934 bringing 6 to 16 inches to many areas of the state. Both Winona and Zumbrota reported over 17 inches of snow, a record for so late in the year.

The warmest March 30th in state history was in 1968 when sunny skies and south winds brought afternoon temperatures that were 20 to 30 degrees F above normal. Thirty-five climate stations reported a high temperature of 80 degrees F or greater. Even the nighttime temperature at Madison (Lac Qui Parle County) never fell below 51 degrees F.

By far the coldest March 30th in state history was in 1975. With ample snow cover still widespread across the state, a polar front dropped temperatures well below zero. Most climate stations in the state reported subzero morning temperatures and it was colder than -20 degrees F at Hallock, Argyle, Thorhult, and Waskish.


Snow/rain mix across the state on Saturday, with the heavier bands of snow in the north. Cooler than normal temperatures under partly cloudy skies through Sunday night. Temperatures will moderate on Monday, but there will be a chance for mixed precipitation around the state. Cool than normal temperatures will prevail next week with another chance for mixed precipitation (snow or rain) by Wednesday.

Friday, March 23, 2018

March is being March

March is being March:

Beginning with the rain and snow storm of the 5th and 6th this month has continued to bring a very typical March weather pattern. There has been plenty of clouds and wind, with a mixture of rain and snow. Temperatures so far are near the monthly average, and so are the precipitation totals.

Over 35 daily snowfall records were tied or brokend with the storm over March 5-6, but generally record setting values of precipitation and temperature have been lacking this month. Minnesota has reported the coldest temperature in the nation on only four dates, three of which were subzero readings from Ely where snow cover has remained relatively deep.

It appears that cooler and wetter than normal conditions will prevail generally for the balance of the month and into the first few days of April. The patience of those Minnesota citizens afflicted with spring fever will be taxed over the coming weeks, as signs of the spring season will be slow to appear.

Weekly Weather Potpourri:

This week NOAA features an article highlighting the extremely warm month of February which occurred over the Arctic Regions, where average monthly temperatures were as much as 25 to 35 degrees F above normal. Portions of Greenland reported some daily temperatures that were 45 degrees F above normal during late February.

For comparison Florida reported its warmest month of February in history last month, and there it was 10 degrees F warmer than normal.

The rapid Arctic warming, also referred to as “polar amplification” is also a topic of discussion in Earth and Space Science News this week. Researchers point out that the continuing decline in Arctic sea ice is causing some latitude displacement of the polar jet stream, which in turn is altering weather patterns across the mid latitudes.

In the Southern Indian Ocean Tropical Cyclone Marcus was spinning off the coast of Western Australia this week, producing winds up to 140 mph and sea waves of 35 feet. Thankfully it was expected to remain out to sea and not threaten the Australian coast.

The BBC Weather Centre this week posted video of a rare snow-nado which occurred in Wales. This takes the form of the common American dust devil, except it is a vortex wind that forms at the surface of the Earth and lifts the snow off the ground into a spiraling funnel.

MPR listener question:

How often does Easter fall on April Fool's Day (the 1st) and what has the weather been like when it does?


Easter generally falls between March 22 and April 25 each year. Since Minnesota statehood in 1858 Easter Sunday has fallen on April 1st only 8 times, including this year. These years were 1866, 1877, 1888, 1923, 1934, 1945, 1956, and 2018. The following were the remarks about the weather on those Easter Sundays of the past:

1866 overcast all day, temperature in the 30s and 40s with an unusual afternoon thunderstorm
1877 started out cold with temperatures in the single digits and teens, mixture of rain and snow, followed by a sunny, and windy afternoon
1888 snow on the ground, blustery and cloudy all day with temperatures in the 30s and 40s F
1923 cloudy and hazy day, with temperatures in the low 40s F, light rain in the northwestern areas
1934 overcast all day with a mixture of rain and snow and temperatures hovering in the 20s and 30s F. 6-8 inches of snow fell in northern parts of the state
1945 cloudy, and a very windy day with temperatures climbing into the 50s and 60s F. Got up to 70°F at Winnebago and Windom, but snowed at Itasca State Park
1956 snow covering the ground, but temperatures climbed into the 40s and 50s F. Thunderstorms brought a half inch of rain in the north
2018 ?

So for the most part these April 1st Easter Sundays were not generally great weather to be outside.

Twin Cities Almanac for March 23rd:

The average MSP high temperature for this date is 45 degrees F (plus or minus 13 degrees F standard deviation), while the average low is 27 degrees F (plus or minus 10 degrees F standard deviation).

MSP Local Records for March 23rd:

MSP records for this date include: highest daily maximum temperature of 83 degrees F in 1910; lowest daily maximum temperature of 10 degree F in 1965; lowest daily minimum temperature of -4 degrees F in 1965; highest daily minimum temperature of 59 degrees F in 2012; record precipitation of 1.18 inches in 1966. Record snowfall on this date is 11.6 inches in 1966.

Average dew point for March 23rd is 24°F; the maximum dew point on this date is 54°F in 1945; and the minimum dew point on this date is -21°F in 1974.

All-time state records for March 23rd:

The all-time state high temperature for today's date is 88 degrees F at Montevideo (Chippewa County) in 1910; the all-time state low for today's date is -37 degrees F at Baudette (Lake of the Woods County) in 1965. The all-time state record precipitation for this date is 3.87 inches at Isabella (Lake County) in 1979. Record snowfall is 18.0 inches at Montgomery (Le Sueur County) in 1966.

Past Weather Features:

The warmest March 23rd in state history was in 1910. Over 40 communities reported a high temperature of 80 degrees F or greater. It reached 81 degrees F at Warroad and the nighttime temperature never dropped below 50 degrees F at Long Prairie.

The coldest March 23rd in state history was in 1965. Over 30 communities reported a morning low of -20 degrees F or colder, and subzero readings occurred as far south as Albert Lea. The afternoon high temperature at Hallock only reached 3 degrees F.

A major winter storm paralyzed the state over March 22-23, 1966. Many southern and eastern Minnesota communities reported 9 to 18 inches of snowfall. High winds brought blizzard conditions to many areas, blocking roads and closing schools. For the first time in history the University of Minnesota campus was closed due to poor weather conditions.


Snow ending on Saturday morning, with cooler than normal temperatures prevailing. Heavier snowfall amounts are expected in portions of southwestern and south-central Minnesota. Another rain and snow mix is developing for later on Sunday night and Monday across much of the state. Then partly cloudy skies will prevail on Tuesday with temperatures climbing closer to normal. It will be warmer and drier with more sun for Wednesday and Thursday.

Friday, March 2, 2018

February Climate Summary

February Climate Summary:

Overall for most areas of Minnesota February was cooler than normal and wetter than normal. Average monthly temperatures ranged from 5 to 7 degrees F cooler than normal. At MSP it ranked as the 28th coolest month of February in the 145 year record. The statewide range in temperature for the month was 55 degrees F at Caledonia (Houston County) and Winona on the 28th and -43 degrees F at Embarrass (St Louis County) on the 5th. Minnesota reported the coldest temperature in the nation 7 times during the month, more than any other state.

Nearly 90 percent of all weather observers reported above normal precipitation for the month, with New Ulm topping the list at 3.33 inches (melted snow equivalent). Several climate stations reported over 2 inches. In terms of snowfall, over 50 Minnesota climate stations reported monthly totals of 20 inches or greater, with parts of Cook and Lake Counties getting over 30 inches. Most of the monthly snowfall came during the week of February 19-25. Within the Minnesota climate observation network there were 54 maximum daily snowfall records that were set or tied during the month.

With the conclusion of meteorological winter (December-February) the climate statistics for Minnesota show that the season was 1 to 3 degrees F cooler than normal. It was also a wetter than normal winter in north-central, northeastern, and south-central counties, but drier than normal in several western and central counties of the state. And finally for the snow season to date, Isabella (Lake County) leads the state with 89 inches so far, while Wheaton (Traverse County) reports a measly 15.3 inches.

Weekly Weather Potpourri:

It was an important day for the NOAA National Weather Service on March 1st this week as the new GOES-S satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Once in orbit it will be renamed GOES-17 and later this year take over for GOES-15 monitoring the western US and the Pacific Ocean. Its sensors will bring new information to forecasters in a more timely manner and should therefore improve forecasting for some areas, especially related to fog formation and formation of tropical storms. It will also be capable of detecting wildfires.

Winter Storm Emma was bringing cold temperatures and mixed precipitation to many parts of the United Kingdom on Thursday and Friday this week. Portions of southwestern England and southern Wales were expected to see 4 to 8 inches of snow, with larger amounts falling in higher elevations. Travel advisories were issued for most of the country as well.

On March 1st Winter Storm Quinn was bringing rain and heavy snow to portions of Washington, Oregon, and the California Sierra Nevada Range. Snowfall was expected to be continuous for a 48-72 hour period with several feet accumulating at elevation. Chains were needed to travel on Interstate 80. Meanwhile a very strong nor’easter was bringing heavy rains, snow, and high winds to the states along the New England coastal region of the USA. Travel was impeded there on Friday, with many flight delays and cancellations.

The study, "Pathways of Influence in Emotional Appeals: Benefits and Tradeoffs of Using Fear or Humor to Promote Climate Change-Related Intentions and Risk Perceptions," published in the Journal of Communication suggests that humor may be a vehicle to stimulate young people to take more action in responding to climate change. This article was a result of collaboration between Second City Works in Chicago and Cornell University.

MPR listener question:

To me nothing says deep winter like the squeal and crunch of dry snow in sub- or near-zero temperatures. I wonder if Dr. Seeley could explain the reason for this phenomenon?


Regardless of its form in the sky, when snowfall flakes fall and accumulate on the ground they aggregate into various forms, with spaces in between. As long as the temperature remains below freezing and there is no melting these spaces between snow aggregates are bridged by tiny crystal structure which support the weight of the snow and keep it from totally collapsing. This process is called sintering. When you walk through the snow in subfreezing temperatures the pressure of your weight exerted on the snow may cause it to melt and the snow aggregates and bridges between them will collapse quietly while lubricated by the liquid water from melting. However when the temperature is below 14 degrees F, the downward pressure of your weight will not cause snow to melt and you will hear the squeaking or crunching sound of the aggregates and ice crystal bridges that hold them together collapsing under your weight.

So typically snow that has not been compacted, or partially melted by warm temperatures will crunch or squeak underfoot when the temperature is 14 degrees F or colder.

(Paul Huttner has written about this, as well as Jim Nash)

Twin Cities Almanac for March 2nd:

The average MSP high temperature for this date is 35 degrees F (plus or minus 10 degrees F standard deviation), while the average low is 19 degrees F (plus or minus 12 degrees F standard deviation).

MSP Local Records for March 2nd:

MSP records for this date include: highest daily maximum temperature of 54 degrees F in 1923; lowest daily maximum temperature of 3 degree F in 2014; lowest daily minimum temperature of -17 degrees F in 1913; highest daily minimum temperature of 37 degrees F in 1878 and 1882; record precipitation of 0.58 inches in 1951. Record snowfall on this date is 7.1 inches in 1951.

Average dew point for March 2nd is 14 degree F, with a maximum of 41 degrees F in 1983 and a minimum of -26 degrees F in 1950.

All-time state records for March 2nd:

The all-time state high temperature for today's date is 71 degrees F at Lake Browns Valley (Traverse County) in 1992; the all-time state low for today's date is -50 degrees F at Pokegama Dam (Itasca County) in 1897. The all-time state record precipitation for this date is 2.45 inch at Young America (Carver County) in 1965. Record snowfall is 25.0 inches at Wolf Ridge (near Finland) in Lake County falling in 2007.

Past Weather Features:

Arctic cold gripped the state for the start of March in 1916. Twenty climate stations reported a morning low temperature of -30 degrees F or colder, with over a foot of snow on the ground. The temperature never rose above -5 degrees F all day at New London (Kandiyohi County).

One of the wettest starts to the month of March occurred in 1965 when a slow moving low pressure system brought mixed precipitation to the state over the first four days of the month. Many areas of the state received 10 to 20 inches of snow, while Collegeville, Winsted, St Cloud and Bird Island received over 20 inches.

Spring temperatures arrived early in 1992. On March 2nd many climate stations reported daytime highs in the 60s F, while both Browns Valley and Canby reached 70 degrees F. But it was not a sign of a warm spring, as the weather pattern sharply cooled down after that.


There will be partly to mostly cloudy skies over the weekend, with a chance for rain or snow., especially later on Sunday. Temperatures will remain a few degrees warmer than normal, but there will be continuing chances for precipitation on Monday and Tuesday as well. Drier weather will settle in for Wednesday through Friday with cooler temperatures.
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