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Winter arrives with major snowstorm: Weather service ups expected snow total for parts of state

Winter officially began last week and it is about to look like it.

The National Weather Service in Duluth expects a strong winter storm to bring widespread snowfall amounts of 10-14 inches across the region. All but a portion of southern Minnesota is forecast to be hit by part of this storm. Weather watches, warnings and advisories stretch across a breadth of the nation's midsection from the tip of Minnesota's Arrowhead down to Arizona. With updates at 3 p.m. and again 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 26, the National Weather Service noted the storm's onset was delayed. Snow was expected to begin after 9 p.m. Wednesday. The update also included increased snowfall totals, particularly for the Iron Range and the North Shore.

The weather service doesn't expect the storm to reach historic levels but noted it is the first major snowfall of the season.

"We typically get one or two of these a winter," the weather service stated.

The storm will come with a learning curve as drivers reacquaint themselves to winter conditions, slippery surfaces, limited visibility with blowing and drifting snow and shortened stopping distances. Travel, the weather service advises, will be difficult.

"If you had plans to be on the road Thursday, consider changing your plans to be safe," the weather service stated. For the latest on road conditions, go to www.511mn.org or call 511.

This multi-day storm comes with a second and third punch.

First the snow

Snow is expected to come down heavily after midnight Wednesday while many people no doubt are snug in their beds, perhaps still dreaming of Christmas. Snowfall is forecast to continue throughout Thursday. The winter storm warning is in effect until noon Friday.

Looking at forecasting models, the weather service said the most likely scenario puts about 10 inches of snow in Brainerd with more snow falling just to the north and east. Walker may receive 13 inches of snow and Grand Marais could get 15 inches.

On the low end, the weather service stated Cass, Crow Wing and Aitkin counties could receive 7-8 inches of snow. On the high end, Brainerd and Crow Wing County and parts of Cass and Aitkin counties could see 15 inches of snow with 17 inches possible in Walker.

Breaking it down to percentages, the weather service briefing noted a 96 percent chance of Cass, Crow Wing and Aitkin counties getting 6 inches or more of snow and a 40 percent chance of getting a foot of snow—that percentage climbs to 58 percent for central and northern Cass County and the northwestern portions of Crow Wing and Aitkin counties.

Temperatures should remain mild into the early morning hours Thursday with highs in the 30s by 4 a.m. and wind gusts as high as 20 mph. Snow of 3-5 inches was anticipated overnight Wednesday and another 3-5 inches is possible during the day Thursday. Snowfall is down to a slight chance before 8 a.m. Friday and relegated to flurries by the morning hours between 8-11 a.m. before the sunshine returns.

Total snow accumulations of 6-12 inches from this storm are expected in Todd, Morrison and Mille Lacs counties with the potential for areas like Little Falls and Long Prairie to also get a light ice glaze. In Wadena County, the snow accumulation may range from 5-12 inches with wind gusts as high as 40 mph. The heaviest snowfall is expected along and west of the Red River Valley, where blizzard conditions are expected Thursday. The weather service noted there could be a sharp cutoff for snowfall totals Thursday, but travel may be impossible in areas with heavy snow and wind.

The winter storm warning extends south of St. Cloud. The Twin Cities is in a winter weather advisory.

Snow reports are welcomed by the National Weather Service—measure in a flat, open area and take an average from several different measurements—via Facebook, Twitter, or online at www.weather.gov/duluth or using the mPing phone app.

Then the wind

Gusty winds may cause blowing and drifting mainly through Thursday night but also extending into Friday. Wind gusts were anticipated as high as 20 mph overnight into Thursday in the Brainerd lakes area and higher to the west.

By Thursday in central Minnesota, the northwest wind could be 10 to 15 mph with gusts of 20 mph. Patchy blowing snow is forecast from 10 p.m. Thursday to 3 a.m. Friday with a north wind of 15 to 20 mph and gusts as high as 30 mph.

Blustery conditions are expected to continue Friday with a north wind of 10-15 mph and gusts as high as 30 mph.

Wind chills may drop to 25 to 30 below Friday night and early Saturday morning and return in the middle of next week.

Finally, the cold

December temperatures have been mild, with daytime highs ranging from 19 degrees to 48 degrees and snowfall limited to a trace or less than a half-inch of snow. With the month nearly over, just three days had temperatures below normal and even then the overnight low did not drop below zero. The snow depth never grew past 1 inch until this storm.

Once the storm clears out, the cold arrives.

After highs near 33 degrees Thursday, Friday's high may top out in the upper teens with an overnight low of 8 below. By Saturday, the high may be 10 degrees with wind chills in the morning in the 20 below range or colder.

For those still digging out, Sunday could provide a high of 27 degrees beneath partly cloudy skies before colder conditions return for year's end.

Comparing Christmas

If this year felt mild for Christmas, it was, especially when compared to a year ago.

A cold snap arriving the week before Christmas of 2017 endured with frigid temperatures about 15 degrees colder than normal. Typical highs for the last weeks of the year are in the low 20s.

In 2017, after a high of 19 degrees on Christmas Eve, cold air arrived in earnest. By Christmas Day last year, the high topped out at 6 below and went colder—to 16 degrees below overnight. By Dec. 27, 2017, the high reached zero and stopped cold—pun intended—while the overnight low plummeted to 30 degrees below before windchill was even part of the equation. Overnight lows remained more than 20 below as 2017 drew to a close with daytime highs not rising above zero (think 5-8 degrees below zero in fact) and 7 inches of snow on the ground.

This year, Christmas Day had temperatures change little from the daytime high of 26 degrees to the overnight low of 22 degrees. Even as the winter storm approaches, temperatures are expected to continue to be relatively mild until the final hours of the year. New Year's Eve promises to be blustery with a high of 21 and an overnight low of 7 below. The high temperature for New Year's Day may top out at 2 degrees beneath mostly cloudy skies. Expect cold to continue for the first days of the new year with overnight lows of 16 below and daytime highs of 12 degrees Wednesday when snow is again likely.

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