Wesley packs a wallop: Snowstorm dumps 8-10 inches, blasts 44 mph winds
All things considered, the lakes area probably feels a bit bamboozled by spring this year.
Winter Storm Wesley delivered a wallop late Wednesday into mid-Friday—8-12 inches of heavy wet snow throughout the lakes area, with wind gusts recorded as high as 44 mph, as well as booming thunder and lightning to boot.
"The winds were pretty strong. In all my time, I haven't seen winds up that high from a snowstorm," National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Leatham said during a phone interview Friday, April 12. "Maybe occasionally a summer thunderstorm, but not a snowstorm."
Leatham noted Thursday's official snowfall of 7 inches in Brainerd beats the all-time April 11 record of 6.3 inches set in 2013.
Prior to Wesley's arrival from southern Minnesota, forecasts indicated heavy snow was possible in the lakes area, with total snow accumulations between 10-18 inches and winds gusting as high as 50-plus mph.
Wesley's delayed—and somewhat softened—arrival Thursday was attributed to a shortage of moisture in the system to produce snow. Mike Steward, a meteorologist at the Duluth office, said the storm displayed aspects of a "dry slot," which the NWS defines as a zone of dry and relatively cloud-free air.
Minnesota National Guard
In response to Thursday's spring storm, Gov. Tim Walz signed an emergency executive order, activating the Minnesota National Guard in southern Minnesota to assist in finding and rescuing stranded motorists.
About 140 soldiers were supporting the peacetime state of emergency.
According to a news release, soldiers of the 224th Transportation Company in Austin were activated 6 p.m. Thursday. According to the Minnesota National Guard, soldiers arrived throughout the evening, with 134 working through the night providing traffic control with police while workers performed restoration maintenance on power lines.
As of noon Friday, the Minnesota National Guard said 30 soldiers were supporting the staffing of five traffic control points in Mower County. About 60 soldiers were supporting the staffing of 19 traffic controls points in Freeborn County. The remaining personnel were providing maintenance, as well as delivering fuel and food to soldiers. Vehicles from Olivia and Rochester, along with Austin were used in the response.
Additionally, the Owatonna and Albert Lea armories were open for shelter beginning 6 p.m. Thursday. The Owatonna Armory had 14 people without power come in to use the facilities and shower over a 12-hour period. Two people used the shelter for warmth overnight.
While central Minnesota managed to avoid the brunt of Wesley's fury, southern Minnesota and particularly South Dakota got lambasted by the system—with snowfall totals at 30.1 inches in Wallace, S.D.; 27 inches in Clear Lake, S.D.; 25 inches at Watertown, S.D.; and 24 inches each at De Smet, S.D., and Redfield, S.D., respectively.
Madison, Minn., saw a deluge of 20 inches in the southwestern corner of the state. For the Brainerd lakes area (and, what looks to be all central Minnesota), Pine River took the crown with 12.7 inches of snowfall during the duration of Wesley.
As a last tidbit, it should also be noted Blatnik Bridge in Duluth saw wind gusts of 72 mph during Thursday's snowy onslaught.
Regional snowfall totals included:
• Bemidji—11 inches,
• Little Falls—10 inches,
• Cass Lake—10 inches,
• Hill City—10 inches,
• Breezy Point—8 inches,
• Barrows—8.3 inches,
• Brainerd—7 inches,
• St. Mathias—6.5 inches,
• Emily—6 inches,
• Fort Ripley—5.9 inches,
• Walker—5.3 inches,
• Nisswa—4 inches, and
• Motley—3 inches.
According to the Minnesota State Patrol, troopers handled 312 crashes (26 involving injuries, though none were serious or fatal) while 90 vehicles spun out or veered off roadways and 42 semitrailers jackknifed on Minnesota roadways Thursday, April 11.
In a Twitter post, Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow reported troopers were responding to more jackknifed semitrailers than he could remember. Most of those, he reported, were with empty trailers or light loads and he noted the storm's strong winds and road conditions.
The Minnesota State Patrol noted numerous road closures during the storm due to dangerous driving conditions, particularly in the extreme southwestern part of the state.
Low likelihood of flooding
A "well above normal" winter season in Brainerd dropped 70.5 inches of snow this season—ranking it seventh in the snowfall record books, about 10 inches shy of the 80.6-inch record set in 1996-97. It factors as an imposing amount of melting precipitation in an area with flood plain risks for communities like Aitkin, Fort Ripley and Little Falls.
In terms of flood risks, Leatham said the forecast is favorable. While many communities are reporting water levels are hovering right around flood stage, he said, the fluctuating temperatures between freezing and melting means the runoff looks to be staggered and gradual.
"It should create a slow melt of the snowfall and slowly running off into rivers and streams," said Leatham, who noted there's a chance there could be flooding and NWS is monitoring the situation, but the outlook remains positive. "There could be some flooding, but at this point and time we're not expecting it to go above flood stage. It should stay just below it."
Another system is projected to roll through starting around the middle of next week—though, Leatham added, it's likely to be too warm for it to remain a bona fide snowstorm and residents will likely see a slushy mix of snow, rain and sleet, before it returns to snow Thursday, then peters out at the end of the week Friday and Saturday. The weather service forecast calls for highs in the 40s and 50s for the week ahead.
While the April 21 holiday isn't smack dab in the crosshairs of this system, early Easter celebrations may be affected and residents should plan accordingly.
"Right now, it doesn't look like anything significant at this point in time," Leatham noted.