Winter blast on its way to region

MARSHALL – If you’re sick of winter and Punxsutawney Phil’s prognostication of an early spring hasn’t done enough to get you by, remember this: At least you don’t live out East.

While the East Coast is getting pummeled by a potentially historic winter storm that could dump snow at a rate of 2 to 3 inches per hour and leave behind 2 feet in many areas, we here in Minnesota are gearing up for a comparatively small dose of winter this weekend – enough to serve as a reminder that despite Phil’s call, winter is nowhere near being over.

The storm that dumped 14 inches in Michigan earlier this week missed Minnesota but this system will not. At worst – or best, depending on your view – southwest Minnesota could see up to 8 to 10 inches of snow.

The storm, which will follow a partly sunny and relatively mild day today, is being classified as a blizzard watch, with rain expected to start falling this evening and changing to snow late tonight or Sunday morning, according to the National Weather Service. Snow and blowing snow is expected throughout Sunday with winds reaching 15-20 mph.

Brad Adams, a hydrometeorological technician with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, S.D., said the storm will impact a good part of the Upper Midwest.

“Right now, we do have the Marshall area in a blizzard watch, with blizzard conditions expected to develop by early Sunday,” Adams said Friday.

The rain-snow transition – and total snowfall – depends on temperature changes, Adams said, but it’s likely to take place before noon Sunday and continue through noon on Monday. The heaviest snowfall and strongest wind gusts, he said, will take place Sunday evening into Monday morning, with gusts in the 40 to 50 mph range.

Of course, as much as no one wants to see the dreaded rain/freezing rain combo, there’s hardly an area in Minnesota that couldn’t use some moisture. The U.S. Drought Monitor showed earlier this week that 98 percent of the state is still in a moderate to extreme drought – more than 80 percent of the state falls into the extreme or severe categories.

If the pattern continues for the rest of February and March, shallow lakes will have trouble getting recharged and soil in the fields will be extremely dry heading into planing season, barring a wet spring.

Southern Minnesota hasn’t seen a major storm since early December when more than 15 inches of snow fell in Granite Falls, about 14 inches in Hendricks, 13 in Ivanhoe and 10 in Marshall, with lesser amounts to the south.

Despite a couple of cold snaps, much of that snow is now gone.

“We have been in-between the two main storm tracks – the polar jet (stream) to the north and the tropical jet to the south,” Adams said, explaining this season’s low snowfall amount. “Right now, the southern jet is moving a little farther north; for a good chunck of winter – from that storm in December through January – the tropical jet has stayed to the south, resulting in just light snow events in January. What you will see Sunday and Monday is a much more significant, moisture-laden storm coming out of the southwest.”

Adams said the three-month outlook is leaning toward above-normal precipitation throughout a good portion of the Northern Plains. The long-range forecast suggests a couple of “active months” in terms of snowfall and then rain once the temperatures rise in the spring, he said.