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Thundersnow: Strong April storm includes thunder and lightning

Motorists drive slowly north on Highway 371 in Baxter, Thursday, April 11, during the heavy snowfall. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch 1 / 2
A pedestrian sprints across Washington Street in Brainerd Thursday, April 11, during the spring storm that swept across central Minnesota. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch 2 / 2

The April spring snowstorm may have been fashionably late Thursday, April 11, but Mother Nature made up for it by creating thundersnow, also known as a winter thunderstorm—in the Brainerd lakes area.

In the midst of the powerful snowstorm, which changed from graupel—soft hail or snow pellets—to snow throughout the day, really got going in the lakes area about 11 a.m. to noon. And when the snow hit, the east-northeast wind gusts—which began Wednesday night—cradled tightly onto the heavy snow, blowing it everywhere and causing low visibility.

The storm got interesting Thursday afternoon as residents in Brainerd and Baxter should have heard thundersnow.

"This is pretty cool," Mike Steward, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Duluth, said of the thundersnow. "This isn't rare, but it is uncommon and doesn't happen all the time; but in a strong storm like this, it's not uncommon for it to happen. As a weather geek, it is cool. It's snowing and thundering, this is an interesting combination.

"This system created enough uplift, moisture and instability to cause a thunderstorm, or in this case thundersnow."

The storm not only created some thunder-boomers, but lightning struck in three locations in the lakes area—just north of Brainerd, Pequot Lakes and Breezy Point. The NWS also received a report of a 20-inch in diameter branch broken off from a tree during the storm about 2 p.m. Thursday in Breezy Point. A Legionville Road resident reported to the Dispatch a tree was down across his driveway.

The storm moved slowly and was expected to continue through early Friday afternoon across most of the region. Brainerd is expected to see between 4-10 inches of snow by the end of the storm, Steward said.

"The one thing that is nice with this storm is it is going to be nice out this weekend," Steward said. "We will get rid of the snow fast ... and next week—mid-week temperatures are expected to be in the 50s."

For those who were baffled when they woke up to no snow on the ground Thursday, Steward said the reason was not enough moisture in the system to produce snow. He said there were areas of a "dry slot," which the NWS defines as a zone of dry and relatively cloud-free air that wraps east- or northeastward into the southern and eastern parts of what is called a synoptic scale or mesoscale low pressure system.

School delays

Students across the state had a snow day Thursday and a number reported a two-hour late start for Friday, including the Brainerd School District, Pillager School District, Pine River-Backus School District, Pequot Lakes schools, Pierz schools, Little Falls Community Schools, Staples-Motley schools, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle Public Schools, Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Schools and the Bertha-Hewitt School District.

Power outages

About 5:30 p.m. Thursday, a swath of Brainerd residences and businesses experienced a power outage. Nearly an hour later, the Brainerd Public Utilities outage map indicated a number of calls reporting outages, particularly in northeast Brainerd. More than 100 calls were noted on the map in the areas to the west and north of the East Brainerd Mall, and a scattering of outage calls extended northeast around Rice Lake and to the western edge of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport. At least some customers reportedly regained power about 7 p.m.

To the north, nearly 2,300 customers near Walker lost power shortly before 6 p.m. Minnesota Power reported a number of outages in and around the city, extending southward to Tenmile Lake and west to Akeley. The company estimated power would be restored by 9 p.m. Thursday.

Crow Wing Power, which services an area between the Chippewa National Forest and Little Falls, Aitkin to the east and Staples to the west, showed no outages on its map as of 6:30 p.m.

Forecast at a glance

• Friday: Snow. High near 33. Breezy, with a northeast wind 10 to 15 mph becoming northwest in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible. At night, there is a 40% chance of snow, mainly before 1 a.m. Cloudy, with a low around 25. West wind around 10 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

• Saturday: partly sunny with a high near 41.

• Sunday: Mostly sunny with a high near 43.

• Monday: A slight chance of rain after 1 p.m. Mostly sunny, with a high near 45.

Brainerd declares snow emergency

The city of Brainerd declared a snow emergency effective 5 a.m. Friday, when snowplowing will commence. Workers will plow the entire city on Friday.

Parking is banned on Friday on the following streets:

• All snow emergency routes.

• All north-south streets or streets that generally run north-south.

• All streets south of Wright Street.

• All streets west of the Mississippi River.

On Saturday, snowplowing will commence at 7 a.m. in the following areas:

• Cleanup where cars were parked on east-west streets and snow hauling in downtown district.

City staff will monitor conditions on Friday. It is anticipated to snow all day, so plows will continue to work on snow emergency routes and other significant thoroughfares within the city, if it is safe for plows to do so, a news release stated. Visibility is anticipated to be limited, and no travel is advised during this storm.

The city will plow around vehicles Friday parked on the east-west streets. Cars parked on snow emergency routes on Friday, will be ticketed and towed immediately. Parking is banned starting on the day they are scheduled to be plowed until they have been plowed from curb to curb, the city stated.

Closings

A number of places and businesses closed early Thursday afternoon, including the Brainerd Public Library and the Westgate Mall.

Central Lakes College closed both the Brainerd and Staples campuses and canceled activities Thursday.

Snow totals

Snow accumulations recorded with the National Weather Service came in at various times Thursday morning and afternoon while snow was still falling in the state, so totals are likely to be updated once the storm is finished. Those not looking forward to shoveling massive amounts of snow with this storm can thank South Dakota for bearing the load.

In South Dakota, snowfall totals included 25 inches near Norbeck, 20.5 inches of snow by Huron and 17.5 inches at Watertown.

In Minnesota, snowfall totals included:

• Ortonville—14 inches.

• Maple Grove—9.5 inches.

• Woodbury—9 inches.

• Minneapolis—8 inches.

• St. Cloud—5 inches.

• Little Falls—3 inches

• Pillager—2.8 inches.

• Brainerd—2.5 inches.

Jennifer Kraus

A big part of my day is chasing down tips on a variety of breaking news stories, relating to vehicle crashes, fires, police incidents and court cases. I’m always thankful when people call in tips to alert me on an incident so I can follow up and see if the tip is actually something that occurred or is a rumor. It’s a big scope to keep track of as we not only cover Brainerd and Crow Wing County incidents, but we also cover the surrounding counties and cities. I also gather information on the entertainment scene, so if you are hosting a band or choir concert, an art exhibit, a play or other theater production -- I want to hear about it. If you know of a story on any of these beats, give me a shout! To help support local journalism, click here to sign up to receive a Dispatch digital subscription to our e-edition or to receive the printed paper at your door, or to get both.

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