Weather service issues rare blizzard warning for lakes area
Brainerd declares snow emergency as winter storm howls through the state. National Weather Service extends blizzard warnings and warns of dangerous life-threatening wind chill following the snow.
Blizzard warnings were extended Wednesday morning, Dec. 23, to include the Brainerd lakes area — a rare event for northeastern Minnesota.
“We do have blizzard conditions in Brainerd and we expect those conditions to continue through the rest of the afternoon,” said Joe Moore, National Weather Service meteorologist in Duluth, on Wednesday morning.
Crow Wing, Cass, Aitkin, Wadena, Todd, Morrison and Mille Lacs counties are all in the blizzard warning. With Brainerd experiencing blizzard conditions by mid-morning. Light snow began falling in Brainerd about 9 a.m. as winds began picking up. The blizzard warnings came within the next hour.
Moore said the winter storm will deliver heavy snow and bitter life-threatening wind chills. Moore provided a storm update via a Facebook Live session Wednesday.
The #Blizzard Warning has been expanded to include Crow Wing, Cass and Aitkin counties including most of the #Brainerd Lakes area! Travel will be very hazardous!!! #mnwx #wiwx pic.twitter.com/Ddi2F7frRS
The #Blizzard Warning has been expanded to include Crow Wing, Cass and Aitkin counties including most of the #Brainerd Lakes area! Travel will be very hazardous!!! #mnwx #wiwx pic.twitter.com/Ddi2F7frRS— NWS Duluth (@NWSduluth) December 23, 2020
Going back over about 24 years of weather service records, Moore said they didn’t find an official blizzard warning being issued in Aitkin County. Since 1996, there has only officially been one blizzard event in Crow Wing County and that was Nov. 18, 2016.
“So this is a pretty rare situation,” Moore said. In an email follow-up, Moore stated, “If we have a case where visibility is a half-mile due to blowing snow for eight hours, that's a mean winter storm ... but it doesn't qualify as a blizzard. The public might call a storm a ‘blizzard’ even if it doesn't meet the NWS criteria, of course, and we often will use ‘near blizzard’ or ‘blizzard-like’ terminology when this happens, but a true blizzard is very, very rare.”
A blizzard warning means visibility of a quarter mile or less with falling and/or blowing snow, and strong winds of 35 mph or greater for three consecutive hours.
“We are already seeing those conditions in Brainerd right now,” Moore said Wednesday morning.
“It takes really strong winds to get blowing snow here because of the wooded areas,” Moore said of northeast Minnesota. “The road conditions are going to be very poor because of this.”
National weather Service in Baxter reporting white out conditions pic.twitter.com/BO0WYdCEcx
National weather Service in Baxter reporting white out conditions pic.twitter.com/BO0WYdCEcx— Mike Bialka (@bertsballpark) December 23, 2020
The weather service ramped up the snowfall amounts expected with the storm as of late Tuesday night and Moore said expectations for snowfall totals have continued to go up. If there is a silver lining for the Brainerd lakes area, it may be that potential for sleet and freezing rain moved farther east. From Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, temperatures remained warm. The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport reported reaching 39 degrees before 9 p.m. Tuesday. By 8 a.m. Tuesday temperatures were still warm at 30 degrees but continued to drop throughout the morning.
The heavier snow is anticipated Wednesday afternoon.
“This evening things are going to be pretty darn bad,” Moore said. “Now by the evening time frame, about 5-6 o’clock tonight, we are going to have 4-6 inches on the ground for most of northeast Minnesota. … We are going to see heavy snow ongoing and winds gusting to 40 maybe even 50 mph. The winds are going to be strongest in clear areas. And on the North Shore we are expecting the highest winds to occur as well as out in Brainerd, Aitkin, Cass County where you can find a little more open area.”
Near blizzard conditions are also possible in Duluth with snow totals there expected to be within 6-10 inches.
In the Brainerd, Walker and Aitkin areas, the winds and blizzard conditions will subside toward the midnight hour.
“The winds will start to come down a little bit,” Moore said.
The coldest temperatures of the winter season are expected on the heels of the snowfall. Moore said he wouldn’t be surprised if wind chills dropped to 40 below in some places. Wind chill advisories are anticipated.
For travelers, Moore said they might have longer visibility on the roadway only to drive into rapidly deteriorating conditions. Gale warnings were issued across all of Lake Superior with winds over 50 mph with this storm. The larger waves are on the south shore, but Moore said the storm will be impressive on the lake.
Don’t look for a big warm up for Christmas Eve. The weather will clear but with the influx of the cold air, temperatures may struggle to get above zero without factoring in any wind chill. Looking at the wind, it will likely feel much colder, perhaps 30 degrees below zero in the lakes region for Christmas Eve. After a mild winter to date, this is likely to be a change that will bite as people go through their final preparations before Christmas.
Road conditions should improve Christmas Eve for the last minute errands.
Weather observers may call in snowfall reports at 218-729-6697 or by email email@example.com , or use social media, or the mPiNG app. For those looking for road conditions, check www.511mn.org with cameras providing a look at current road conditions, including cameras on snowplows.
The city of Brainerd declared a snow emergency, effective at 3 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 24.
During a snow emergency, the following parking rules are enforced:
No parking on all snow emergency routes for a period of 48 hours.
On the first day of a snow emergency, no parking on all north/south streets (streets that predominantly run north and south), all streets lying west of the Mississippi River and all streets south of Wright Street;
On the second day of a snow emergency, no parking on all east/west streets (streets that run predominantly east and west).
Snow plowing will begin at 4 a.m. Thursday on the following streets:
All snow emergency routes.
All north–south streets or streets.
All streets west of the Mississippi River.
All Streets south of Wright Street.
East/west streets will also be plowed Thursday. Vehicles parked on east/west streets for streets identified for plowing on the second day of a snow emergency will be plowed around.
Plowing of snow emergency routes and other high priority routes will also take place Dec. 23 during the storm if conditions allow and driver safety can be maintained.
Snowplow clean up on east/west streets will begin at 6 a.m. Monday, Dec. 28.
Downtown Special Services District
These rules do not apply to streets in the Downtown Special Services District that are subject to different parking regulations during snow emergencies.
Downtown plowing will begin at 3 a.m. Thursday on the following streets:
Front Street between South Sixth and South Eighth streets.
Laurel Street between South Sixth and South Eighth streets.
South Seventh Street between Maple and Front streets.
Parking is banned on streets until they have been plowed in their entirety. Any vehicles parked on these streets will be ticketed and towed at the owners’ expense.
For more information on the snow emergency and for route maps, visit ci.brainerd.mn.us/182/Snow-Emergencies .
Staff Writer Theresa Bourke assisted with this story.