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Winter Storm Argos: Lakes area center of highest expected snowfalls

The winter storm bearing down on Minnesota is expected to pack such a punch, it's been named. After the forecast changed briefly Wednesday to indicate fewer inches expected for the Brainerd lakes area, Thursday morning ushered in a winter storm w...

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"It'll mix with and change to snow, probably by the time most people are heading out the door tomorrow (Friday)," said Dean Melde, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Duluth. "Through the day, we're looking at about 10 inches. Most of it is going to fall during the day ... we're expecting close to a foot of snow." Graphic: National Weather Service Duluth

The winter storm bearing down on Minnesota is expected to pack such a punch, it's been named.

After the forecast changed briefly Wednesday to indicate fewer inches expected for the Brainerd lakes area, Thursday morning ushered in a winter storm warning for Winter Storm Argos. The storm's expected path shifted to the southeast, placing Brainerd squarely within the zone predicted to receive some of the heaviest snow totals throughout the day today.

The forecast called for rain Thursday night, turning into snow in the early morning hours Friday.

"It'll mix with and change to snow, probably by the time most people are heading out the door tomorrow (Friday)," said Dean Melde, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Duluth. "Through the day, we're looking at about 10 inches. Most of it is going to fall during the day ... we're expecting close to a foot of snow."

Along with the 8-12 inches of predicted snowfall, Melde said windy conditions will lead to blowing and drifting snow.

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"It's going to whip around, especially in the morning (Friday)," Melde said. "It's going to be a pretty nasty day."

According to the NWS website, the highest expected snow totals range from southern Cass County across central and northeast Itasca County into northern St. Louis County.

"The highest contour on this map is 14 inches, but a narrow band of 15-18 inches is possible within the area of highest amounts," the website stated. "The snow amounts haven't changed much ... but the locations have shifted about 25 miles southeast."

Melde said the snow is expected to quit falling overnight Friday, but high temperatures below freezing through the weekend mean it's likely to stick around. Early into next week, a warming trend could bring some melting. But if totals are as expected, Melde said some will likely stick around.

"I don't think it will all go away, but you'll do some damage to it," he said.

Could be in the top 10

Big winter storms are not unusual for this time of year or in the spring, when dramatic temperatures differences exist between northern and southern air masses, Melde said. As for the likelihood of a large snowstorm also having the distinction of the first snowfall, Melde said a storm of this magnitude is unusual no matter when it occurs.

"It's pretty unusual to get this much snow anytime," Melde said.

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Melde looked at records at the Brainerd water plant going back to 1908 to find comparable snow events. The last time Brainerd residents experienced a storm with snow totals similar to what's expected was in April 2013, when 11 inches fell. In that same time period, the earliest in the winter season with a similar snowfall was when 10 inches fell on Nov. 13, 1983. The highest snowfall total within a 24-hour period in Brainerd, according to those records? That happened in March 1985, when 24 inches of snow settled on the ground.

"If we overachieve here, we could go into the top 10 (for snow events)," Melde said.

The average amount of snowfall Brainerd sees between October and May is 47 inches, meaning if 12 inches falls today, this winter is already nearly one-quarter the way toward average.

Melde said long-range forecasts are predicting a greater chance of below normal temperatures between December and February this winter.

"For our area in northern Minnesota, maybe a little better chance than normal of higher precipitation. Which means snow," Melde said. "It won't be mild, like last winter."

Snow plows to deploy

The first snowfall of the year coupled with likely blowing snow conditions are prime time for winter safety reminders, and several agencies released information reminding the public to take precautions.

The Crow Wing County Highway Department released a series of reminders concerning driving safety.

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"It is likely in the near future that Crow Wing County will be experiencing snow and ice covered roads," the news release stated. "That means the deployment of snowplows! Have patience when you encounter a plow truck, as it is there to help make the roads safer for your travel."

Snowplows operate at a slower speed than normal traffic. Drivers are reminded to leave at least five car lengths between their vehicle and the plow, allowing ample room to operate and spread material on the road. In addition, the plow driver's field of vision is restricted behind the truck and cannot see if drivers follow too closely, the news release stated.

Another safety reminder for drivers is to remain vigilant of black ice, which can form quickly, particularly on bridges. Black ice forms when the air temperature is warmer than pavement and creates a thin, transparent layer of ice.

"Leave yourself plenty of time," the release stated. "Your trip will just take longer than usual when road conditions are not optimal. Use your headlights so you are easily visible to traffic. Wear your seat belt and do not use your cell phone while you are driving."

Statewide road conditions and closures are available at the Minnesota Department of Transportation's interactive website www.511mn.org or by dialing 511.

Visit www.dot.state.mn.us/workzone for more information on winter work zone safety.

Stay up to date with Crow Wing County snow plowing and other highway maintenance operations by email and/or text alerts. Go to www.crowing.us , then scroll down and click on the green "Stay Informed" box on the homepage to subscribe. Learn when the highway department snow plows will begin plowing or what type of maintenance will be performed on the county roads and highways near home in two other ways:

• Visit https://m.facebook.com/crowwingcounty/

• Follow on Twitter at @crowwingmn

Crow Wing County gravel roads, including those within the Unorganized Territory, may not be initially plowed after the recent snow. Allowing these gravel surfaces to thoroughly freeze and accumulate a base layer of snow is a strategic decision intended to protect the soft surfaces from snow plow damage, the news release stated.

"A protective layer of compacted snow locks the surfacing in place and helps prevent costly aggregate loss," stated the release. "During these initial events, asphalt-paved roadways will see no reduction in the level of service. Once the protective base layer is achieved, the level of service for all county and unorganized territory gravel roads will return to normal."

Stay safe in winter power outages

With line crews and equipment positioned across its service territory, Minnesota Power is prepared for the impending storm, a company news release stated.

Strong early winter storms often can cause power outages.

"A potential danger in this storm will be the many trees weakened by the past summer's storms," the release stated. "Vegetation management crews have been working hard this fall to clear as many of those trees as possible to reduce the possibility of trees and limbs falling on power lines.

"Customers are urged to stay away from any such trees that appear to threaten power lines to their homes."

Contact Minnesota Power at 800-228-4966 to report any problems and visit the online Outage Center at www.mnpower.com/OutageCenter to report an outage, view the outage map, and/or download the outage app on a smartphone to check on the status of power restoration times.

Here are some tips Minnesota Power offered to help weather a winter storm:

• Keep a "Lights Out" kit in an accessible place with at least one flashlight, a battery-powered radio and extra batteries.

• Use candles or camping lanterns with caution.

• If there is a fireplace, keep matches and firewood handy to be prepared to build a fire to keep warm.

• Turn off televisions, stoves, microwave ovens, stereo equipment and other appliances except the refrigerator and freezer.

• Leave on at least one light to know when power has been restored.

• Do not go near any low or downed wires as injury or death could occur.

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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