North Dakota storm makes history

Even in a state that is no stranger to snowfall, the blast of white stuff that struck North Dakota this past weekend was out of the ordinary.

Bismarck obliterated snowfall records by receiving 17.3 inches of snow on Sunday. Not only did that amount shatter the old record of five inches for that date, it pushed Bismarck’s April total to 21.5 inches. The old mark was 18.7. The 17.3 inch total was also the largest recorded snowfall for any calendar day in Bismarck’s history.

Minot, at least by comparison, was fortunate. The city received about 6 to 8 inches of snow on the north side and perhaps 10 to 11 inches on the south side. Jim Tarasenko, research specialist at the North Central Research and Extension Center, reported 9.5 inches of snow in a 24-hour period ending at 8 a.m. Monday. Other reports from the area were as high as 11.5 inches.

For a while it appeared the massive spring storm would track north of Minot and dump 15 to 20 inches of snow over the Souris River Basin. Such an event would certainly alter what is a favorable runoff scenario for the Souris this spring, if the runoff ever gets under way.

“Most of the snow fell downstream of Minot, the vast majority of it,” said Allen Schlag, National Weather Service hydrologist in Bismarck.

Indeed, snow totals upstream of Minot were considerably less than what was experienced in the city. The track of the storm zeroed in on Bismarck, sparing residents along the Souris River Valley the agony of what the effect might be on spring runoff.

“A lot of it fell on areas that had considerable brown ground showing. There is no enhanced fear on my behalf about this snowpack because of where it fell,” stated Schlag.

Nevertheless, the NWS intends to conduct aerial gamma surveys of the new snowpack as soon as weather conditions permit. Data gained from the surveys will be analyzed and figured into upcoming runoff outlooks.

Ferris Chamberlin, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chief of water management, St. Paul District, said he didn’t believe the snowfall would significantly alter a new hydrologic outlook for the Souris that could be issued as soon as this Thursday.

“We rely on the NWS to run their gamma flights and we’ll run a new hydrograph for their model,” said Chamberlin. “There may be changes, but we won’t have that until the flights are complete and we run that model. Right now we are holding Lake Darling releases at 2,800 cubic feet per second until Friday and then cutting back. It looks like we can handle the snowmelt quite well.”

What might not be handled so well is area residents that are growing increasingly impatient with spring, or rather the lack of expected spring weather. The thermometer continues to read well below normal for the season and, with the recent snowfall, the region has taken on an appearance that is much more winter-like than spring.

“There’s about a foot of snow here and I’m shoveling some more,” said Carol Rubbelke, Minot, while helping dig out her vehicle Monday morning. “I’m wishing it were summer. Spring is almost done. The only good thing is that it’s not 30 below zero.”

Helping Rubbelke dig out from Sunday’s storm was her son, Aaron Johnson.

“It’s not really fun, I can tell you that,” said Johnson. “It’s going to take a while. I just wish summer would come.”

Summer officially arrives June 21. The first official day of spring was March 20. That was 28 days ago and still there is no sign of what spring is supposed to look like. According to Ken Simisko, NWS meteorologist, there’s no need to reach for the suntan lotion just yet.

“You should get to the upper 30s Friday, maybe 43 on Sunday. It’ll be a very slow edge into the lower 40s, but I can tell you it looks like a cold front will move through your area Sunday night,” said Simisko.

The cold front would push daytime temperatures back into the low 30s. The 8-14 day outlook contains a number of uncertainties, but none of the scenarios contain what would be considered spring weather for the Minot region.

“We’re not exactly sure what’s going to happen. The forecast models are not in very good agreement. One says cool to mild and the other cooler patterns than normal and probably more active,” noted Simisko.

On April 14, 2010 Minot had a high of 71 degrees. This year the city was sentenced to a snow storm. Nearly one-third of spring has passed without any resemblance of expected temperatures.

“I would say it’s abnormal,” said Simisko. “Normal highs would be about 55 and normal lows maybe 31. You will be nowhere near that.”

Simisko noted that the Climate Prediction Center expects below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation for Minot through June. However, those outlooks have changed frequently in recent months, reflecting the difficulty in long-range forecasting during a year when “normal” isn’t normal at all.

Snowfall totals reported from the weekend storm proved to be substantial. Totals varied several by inches within short distances of each other. Among the reporting points Center recorded 22 inches, Lincoln 19.4, Ellendale 20, Dickinson 16, Jamestown 17, Harvey and Fessenden 12 and Towner 2 inches.