Saturday, January 13, 2024

MLK Day Winter Storm Q&A (with lots of pictures and GIFS)

I've written many a blog post ahead of winter storms over the years. The format that seems to work best is Q&A style, because I know you have questions. So herein I will try and provide answers - some to the point, some with more detail. Keep in mind this is AS OF SATURDAY MORNING. The forecast can (and probably will) change, or at least be refined. Buckle up!

Q: Is it really gonna snow?
A: Yes, really.

Q: When will it start and end?
A: Timing has been a chief concern for the past few days. Models have struggled. But they are getting better and I have higher confidence now. A Winter Storm Warning is in effect from Sunday at noon through Tuesday at 6am. I believe we could see some flurries (or maybe freezing drizzle) by late afternoon Sunday. By early to mid evening, snow becomes likely and continues much of the night and into Monday. I would expect it to taper off by mid-afternoon Monday, but flurries or light snow could linger through the evening. We're looking at 18- 24 hours of precipitation. 

Q: How much are we going to get?
A: This is the million dollar question and the one everyone cares about. I believe Sunday night's snow will be fairly uniform and light, but still with accumulation potential. On Monday, a band (or bands) of moderate to perhaps heavy snow sets up within an area of lighter snow. This adds complication to the totals because we don't know exactly where that will happen. However, recent data suggests this could be close to or south of I-40. Within that band, there is strong potential for 5-7" of snow. Outside of that sweet spot, I still think 3-4" is going to be the average. So to put an overall range on it, 3-7" is my call as of 11am Saturday. Below is what the NWS has as of right now - we're not too different.

Q: What sort of boom and bust potential is there? 
A: Great question, glad you asked! On the low end, I think everyone in the 8-county MWN coverage area is likely to see at least 2", even if the storm underperforms. If that's all you get, you'll have to just shake it off. On the flip side, there is a low chance somewhere within a heavy band that 8" or more could fall.  

(Warning: science lesson about to break out!) Part of the uncertainty in totals has to do with what we call the "snow to liquid ratio" (SLR), which is how much snow occurs given a certain amount of precipitation in liquid form. Typically, an inch of liquid yields 10" of snow, or a 10:1 ratio. When it is very cold with lower humidity, that ratio goes up. So an inch of liquid may be 15" of snow (15:1). That type of snow is "dry" and doesn't pack well (i.e. no snowball fights and clear it with a leaf blower). I think we'll end up with a drier snow than typical for this area, but not Minneapolis dry. It's still one of the unknowns though. Sorry for the weather nerdy interruption - back to the Q&A.

Q: Any surprises, like rain or ice mixing in?
A: Doubtful. Although, there are hints that very light precipitation at onset late Sunday afternoon could be freezing drizzle. It's not a major concern for me. 

Q: How will the roads be Monday / Tuesday / in February?
A: The cold air that moves over us in the coming week is no joke. It'll be moving beyond #StupidCold to #DangerousCold for some folks. On Monday, I wouldn't recommend travel unless necessary, as we'll be in a Winter Storm Warning and there will be accumulation actively occurring. (Yes, I know the Grizzlies play a big MLK Day game. We don't need fans added to the injury list, tbh.) 

Fortunately, rain doesn't preface this event, so roads will be treated starting today and that will help. But some of those treatments don't work as well when temps get into the mid teens or colder, like they will Monday morning and definitely Tuesday morning. 

As for Tuesday, it's kind of wait and see, but if 3-4" or more falls and traffic is light Monday (likely, due to snow falling and the holiday), Tuesday morning may not be much better. The only thing that might help a little is if the snow is dusty and, with some wind blowing, main streets might fare a bit better. A hard freeze Monday night with no traffic will likely mean a dicey Tuesday morning though. Sunshine on Tuesday, despite bitterly cold temperatures could help with primary roads. I think odds are above even that Tuesday is a "snow day" though too. (That one is for you, teachers!) By February, we should be fine. 😉

Q: I have a flight...
A: Are you going to the Bahamas? Make every effort, and add a ticket for me.

So the airport is as equipped as any place to handle winter weather. They have more snow removal equipment than most southern cities and FedEx won't slow down (much). But getting there could be "tough sledding" (see questions above). The best answer is check with your airline. There will probably be cancellations, but not necessarily because the airport is "closed." It won't close. But airlines don't like getting planes stuck or crews unable to fly due to flight rules, so many times they proactively cancel.

Q: How about the #StupidCold this week? 
A: Snow is fun and generally not super dangerous. This cold will NOT be. After today, we likely won't get back above freezing until Thursday afternoon. In the meantime, temperatures will be in the teens to 20s Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. We'll drop into the single digits Wednesday morning. Wind chills will be dangerous, even with just a 10-15 mph wind. 

Forecast wind chills Tuesday and Wednesday mornings

Q: Will my pipes burst?
A: If your pipes have had issues when it got brutally cold just before Christmas in 2022 or in mid-February 2021, you might be at risk again. This week will be a "4-P Week." Take care of your people (and others if able), your pets (indoors or a warm place), your pipes, and your plants. Keep the faucets dripping and cabinets open on exterior walls where there are pipes.

Q: How about the electrical grid?
A:  Due to the prolonged cold, and the fact that it will affect a large area in the southeast, energy load will be well above average. I don't have to remind you of Christmas 2022 when the load ended up resulting in many issues. MLGW has already indicated that they are in much better shape than 2022, but that they will request conservation of utilities. Scattered power outages seem possible, although it won't be as bad as if ice were pulling down trees and lines. Heavy snow could cause some issues, as might excessive load. Be prepared just in case and conserve where able.

Q: What's this I am hearing about Thursday? Are we going to do this all over again??
A: I'm not talking about it just yet, other than to say "do it all over again" is not in the cards. A light winter precip event is possible, and the cold will be reinforced for a couple days behind it. Let's get through this one first.

Q: When will it be 70 degrees and sunny again?
A: March. 

Final word: This could be a dangerous storm for many in our community. While we had a little fun with this (and you probably will enjoy it especially if you have kids), please make sure you read closely the safety tips and other advice. Take care of your neighbors and be smart about your choices. Most importantly, prepare for the brutal cold. It'll be a week to ten days of well below average temperatures.

Erik Proseus
MWN Meteorologist

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very thorough write up and analysis! The humor is also appreciated. Thank you