Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Admissions of a Snow Lover

Let me make one thing clear: I moved to Minnesota for the snow and cold.

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where the height of winter resembled, in a good year, Minnesota’s March. But the mid-Atlantic’s infamous Blizzard of ’66 and its 8-foot drifts left an indelible image on a 5-year-old easily dwarfed by what seemed like skyscrapers of snow.

And so from January 1966, the pursuit, the dream, was on. When I was old enough to live on my own, I endeavored to live in a place with a real winter that got real snow. I wanted it piled high and I wanted a kind of cold that was the stuff of legends – where exhaust freezes on contact, where tossed boiling water never hits the ground, and where frozen bananas could be used as hammers. At least that’s what I’d always thought.

Last year’s prodigious snows were welcomed. At the conclusion of each dumping, I found myself looking for the next big storm, the next Panhandle Hooker. More. I wanted more until I couldn’t see out my windows.

Last winter, I read Paul Douglas’s Star Tribune blog faithfully, my heart racing with each mention of two feet of snow as if Jennifer Aniston asked me if I were free on Saturday night. My ears grew wider with each Dave Dahl utterance of “more significant snow on the way.” Happiness was just a Winter Storm Watch away.

But then a funny thing happened. The first third of this “winter” has brought brown that, surprisingly, hasn’t caused me to be blue. As the host of a Minnesota weather blog whose activity depends on snowy weather, I’m at a loss to explain it all.

The flannel-lined jeans remain on the top shelf of the closet. The “serious” mittens have yet to see action. My dog walks confidently down sidewalks bereft of salt that usually stings his paws. And it doesn’t seem right that my California born-and-bred girlfriend has yet to report her first fall on the ice.

Maybe, just maybe, this is not so bad. My inner weather geek can find “coolness” in the possibility that this may be a record-setting snowless winter that I can tell my grandchildren about. And compared with all the dire predictions from the experts of a snowy, cold winter, I find unadulterated joy in knowing that weather – at least beyond the next day or two – still defies prediction.

My father, in his eternal eloquence, once reframed the elation I expressed on the first warm day after the snow had melted and it didn’t physically hurt to be outside. “It feels good when you stop hitting your head against a wall, doesn’t it?” he proclaimed. I think the old man was on to something.

Bill Stein is a communications consultant and editor of MinnesotaForecaster.com, a Minnesota weather blog.

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  1. Weather pattern this weekend and into next week looks eerily similar to the days leading up to our New Year's Eve disappointment. Are we in for more teasing storms?

    On a positive note, the strongest Arctic blast of the season is poised to surge into the Upper Midwest later next week. The trajectory of the Arctic air down the eastern slopes of the Rockies is conducive for Winter Storm development in the Plains states.

  2. @NovakWeather, thank you.

    @Plymouth Weather Lover: there has been a huge change in the CFS v2.

    Notice the lack of a ridge over the se US and the higher heights setting up over the pole. That will push the cold air down into the lower 48, w/o the ridge the air should drop quickly to our south and south east, most likely taking the storm track south of us, so I felt the cold would most likely would come in dry. This is what the GFS v2 is showing for temp anomalies...


    The 18z GFS 500mb supported that idea.

    notice how the airflow is bottled up of the west coast ( a sign of a negative EPO), that allows the cold air to drop straight down from NW Canada.

    Now look at the 0z.....http://mag.ncep.noaa.gov/GemPakTier/MagGemPakImages/gfs/20120104/00/gfs_namer_312_500_vort_ht.gif

    Notice how there is now a nice on shore flow (sign of a positive EPO) and a bit of a ridge in Northern CA. That flow may keep most of cold air bottled up north of us.

    Who knows what will verify. I for one don't have a clue anymore, time will tell I guess.

  3. Bill - have you ever thought of living, or at least taking a winter vacation in upstate NY? I spent 1 year at college in Oswego, NY, which is a port town at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. Some of the towns nearby easily average 100+" of snow a year. You have to love the Buffalo NWS as a few years ago they started "naming" lake-effect events, similar to tropical storm names.
    Here is some info from Buffalo's page:


  4. Well, you all seem to have beat me to the punch. I guess that's what I get for attempting to photograph the meteor shower tonight. I just thought I would throw in the Europeans run as well to the mix, and it really digs in a nice trough near by, with a low north and south of us eventually merging and bombing out over Michigan. I just can't believe that we would have this much of an arctic surge, and get left out of any snow. This is close enough to home to keep an eye on for a western shift in the low, but models are really hinting at this cold push in about a weeks time. That much cold without snow could be an issue with the shallow pipes in the ground, so here's hoping to getting some snowfall with it.

  5. Bill looks like its about time to break out the serious mittens,in about a week from now 1/11 or 12,but in between I could honestly see temps crack 40 five times(this has gone on way too long),I'm not wishing bitterly cold temps by no means,as a snow lover bitterly cold temps are not needed,average would be good(which this time of year is low 20's for highs and single digits for lows)I need a blizzard or an event that drops over 10",its hurting business.

  6. Bill, I enjoyed reading your comments for this thread. The first half of the thread echoes my sentiments excactly! I am a fellow snowlover and I always will be. I have loved snow ever since I can remember. My mother used to say that I saw the first snowflake of every snowfall. I would get up in the middle of the night several times just to look out the window to see if the snow had started falling. Having grown up in Delaware and having lived in D.C. while attending college I spent more than the first half of my life being repeatedly disappointed by either the storms that formed off Hatteras and moved too far offshore or the nor'easters that gave the I-95 corridor a cold rain while the PA and MD mountains picked up tons of snow. So close but yet so far away. I even bet my two best friends in kindergarten $5 each that when I grew up I would live in a state that had "Real Winters"; specifically MN, WI or MI. I have now lived in either MN or WI for the past almost 20 years. When people ask me what brought me West, I tell them the weather did. I will always love the variety of weather that exists in this part of the country. It is exciting year round. However, I must confess that I feel nothing but extreme disappointment over the non-existing winter this season. Last year was a dream. Perhaps I got too spoiled by that or perhaps I am still hoping to "catch up" on all of those real winters that I missed while living back East....

  7. @MN WeatherFan, I've definitely thought about living in the snowbelt for a winter. I think that would be neat. I recall driving from Ann Arbor, MI to Minneapolis one day (yea, LONG drive) and only in retrospect did I realize I drove through some heavy lake-effect snow in Indiana. It was a quite a thing, only I didn't realize what I was going through.

    @Snow Meiser, Sounds like we have much in common. I used to do all those same things. I must admit there are times when I get sentimental when I hear about big snows back there. For one, it hardly ever snows as hard here as it does there (when it snows), though Saturday night's huge flakes were similar. For another, I sometimes miss the "event" that it becomes. I've often felt that snowstorms are nature's way of saying, "stop working and get out and enjoy the weather." Here, for the most part, it's business as usual. Still, I check the Capital Weather Gang (you must be familiar with them) and I feel for the desperation they all feel about getting snow they might not ever get (gee, that sounds familiar this year). And if people think snowstorms are hard to forecast here, they ain't seen nothing compared to the ol' mid-Atlantic, where so many other factors get involved. I went to college in Williamsburg, VA, and snow was harder to come by there than in DC. Ah, the memories....

  8. @Big Daddy, what's your snow-dependent business?

  9. Another Disappointed Snow LoverJanuary 4, 2012 at 11:09 AM

    Hi Bill,
    your post totally resonates with me as well.
    I am also someone who moved to Minnesota for snow and winter.
    I moved in October 2006, which turned out to be a disappointing winter (the last brown Xmas before this one) and I soon started to wonder whether as a snow lover Minnesota had indeed been the wrong choice.
    I have been mulling a move to Marquette, Mi several times and I was about to do it before last winter when I issued Mother Nature an ultimatum: if you do not give me at least a 60-inch winter, I'll move!!!!!
    We know what happened last winter!
    But it seems it may have been just an exception, and this winter is clearly making me want to move somewhere where it really snows.
    Could it be that maybe we are all wishful-thinkers and after all Minnesota is just not that snowy as we'd like it, and we struggle to accept it?. MSP average snowfall of 45 inches is really not that impressive.

  10. As a snow-hater, this is the best winter of my nearly 34 years. I can't describe what it was like to go play real football on a 59-degree Thanksgiving. And then to bring my toddler daughter to the park to swing on the day after Christmas. And to have clear safe roads on our holiday trek to Chicago.

    Minnesota winters have a very bad reputation. Many times we're locked inside for five solid months, as we were last year. That does bad things to mental and physical health. But this season has been incredible as I've been able to enjoy the outdoors for a lot longer. I don't feel as trapped.

    Beyond all that, some of what Bill said does resonate with me. This weather is very interesting and memorable. I can only compare it with the glorious winter of 2001/2002, when, on 5th December, I wore shorts to work as we had a high of 63. I'll never forget that day.

  11. In my mind, big-snow winters are good, as are our mild snowless winters (like this one, so far). It's the super cold, nuisance-only snow winters that are the worst.

  12. Nice Bill, way to jinx us. You must have been looking at the latest 12z ECMWF.

    I'm telling you, if the Euro is right, we are going to be worrying about busted pipes by the end of next week. Nothing like going from 20 degrees above avg. to 20 degrees below avg. temps in a span of a few days. I could see temps dropping to -15 below by Friday AM next week.

    Now, will we get any snow? Somebody in the Midwest will, but my confidence is waning for a MN event.

  13. Not sure what I jinxed as my post was both pro-snow and pro-nosnow. Is 15 below possible without snow cover?

  14. Weather.com, which has proven pretty reliable, shows 15 above for Friday am in Twin Cities....

  15. ok time will tell what happens..there is no doubt in my feeble mind, that temps will crash around the 12-14th. Will it go below zero? I don't think so, but it will be close. The big question is the 17th-through the 20th. I could see temps easily dropping below 0° for the metro, with northern MN looking at about -15 or -20, or worse. I think at this time it is 50/50 that could happen. W/O the SE ridge I think this cold around the 17th will come in dry, and dig down to the southern US big time.

    Any way the only business sector that can like this set up is the ice fishing business. Little or no snow cover and well below ave temps being possible for the later half of the month will mean great lake ice, as it will not have a good layer of snow to insulate it.

  16. @Another Disappointed Snow Lover, if I were you, I'd move to Marquette. I've lived here for 27 years and it's really not all that snowy here. If there were some sort of snow-to-cold quotient (perhaps inches of snow per number of zero degree days), ours would be pretty low. Still, we hope.

  17. Plymouth Weather LoverJanuary 4, 2012 at 8:59 PM

    Wow, you guys can be depressing. Take it as it comes. Last year rocked for snow lovers and this year rocks because it is so warm. It would be the worst if it was bitterly cold with very little snow. Gotta love the variations in our seasons and within our seasons. This is a great place to live year-round. I love snow. Used to get up in the middle of the night to see if it had started. I still like to see the first flake of what is predicted to be a big storm. My brothers all call me snowman. I hate the cold, but it comes with it. No other area can give you this variety in weather. Hot, cold, snow, rain, severe weather, etc. Gotta love it here. Now, stay positive and let's bring on our first big snowstorm. Its gotta happen!

  18. No doubt that we will need some snowpack in an effort to get well below zero. You would think that would happen by late next week, but I've been fooled before.

  19. @NovakWeather "Don't get fooled again." Sorry, couldn't resist. Great song.

  20. @Novak, maybe your the jinx if you stop forecasting every dusting to be greater then it needs to be,maybe just maybe we could get a decent storm to plow through here.Just saying!

  21. Crap if we cant have winter weather in January,then I say "go big or go home",who thinks somewhere in Minnesota today hits 60 DEGREES?

  22. @Bill,retail business! I couldnt tell you how much winter product we have laying around from snowblowers to shovels to ice/snow melt,season started great,we couldnt keep up with the demand for snowblowers in November,then December came,with it no snow,no sales(everyone was buying ahead cuz what happened last year)we are at a point in the season now when this stuff will only sell if it actually snows or a major snow is forecasted to hit,so any of our regulars(Duane,Novak,Randy,Bemaki)what do you see in your crystal ball of yours in terms of snow,yeah I know the cold is coming,which we need for snow but I dont care for the real bitter stuff like below zero(it doesnt fascinate me any longer throwing boiling water into subzero air like it once did when i first moved here 15 years ago from NY)Yes @Bill and @Snow Meiser I too yearn for those big east coast Nor'easters,but growing up on Long Island we were constantly battling the warm air coming off the Atlantic Ocean and all too often our snows would change to rain,but north and west of New York City was always the jackpot for snow,so yes I moved to Minnesota as well to enjoy a true winter with four distinct seasons(but as my wife would say there is only 2,winter and summer,its either too damn cold or too damn hot,if you blink you miss spring and fall,according to her)

  23. I come from the Dave Dahl school of optimism and hard knocks. :)

    What can I say? I expect DEC/JAN to be winter-like, not October'ish. Heavy rain in late December throws me off my game.

    Hitting curve balls out of the park is not my game. I'm waiting for that fast ball over the heart of the plate. Unfortunately, I can't steal the catcher's signs since the model data is erratic. That is my story and I'm sticking to it. Ha!

  24. Damn, I went out and bought the biggest snowblower they make. After Dave Dahl Novak predicted the Mayen end of Minnesota covered in deep frozen drifts of powdered snow. How the hell do you think I feel for blowing two grand on a DOT snowblower?

    Kidding Novak!

  25. For those of you that know me, I'm not that much of an alarmist, but I'm concerned.

    54 degrees in Rochester, 60's in western MN and the Dakotas and I saw a 72 degree reading out in Phillips, SD. These figures are absurd. The Rochester reading shattered their old record by nearly 10 degrees. The same can be said over much of the region.

    This is far from normal and has to make everyone think a bit. Hey, I'm all about expecting temperature swings and realizing that weather is cyclical, but this is well beyond what could be considered logical. And, it has been this way for months.

  26. they call it global warming.
    Ever heard of it?

  27. @ Novak: your post at 10:54 was hilarious LOL!!! How are you at knuckle balls??? I heard on Monday that the Southern Oscillation Index was dropping so I decided to do a bit of research. This is what I found..http://www.longpaddock.qld.gov.au/seasonalclimateoutlook/southernoscillationindex/30daysoivalues/

    and this explanation from the CPC.."The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) is one measure of the large-scale fluctuations in air pressure occurring between the western and eastern tropical Pacific (i.e., the state of the Southern Oscillation) during El Niño and La Niña episodes. Traditionally, this index has been calculated based on the differences in air pressure anomaly between Tahiti and Darwin, Australia. In general, smoothed time series of the SOI correspond very well with changes in ocean temperatures across the eastern tropical Pacific. The negative phase of the SOI represents below-normal air pressure at Tahiti and above-normal air pressure at Darwin. Prolonged periods of negative SOI values coincide with abnormally warm ocean waters across the eastern tropical Pacific typical of El Niño episodes. Prolonged periods of positive SOI values coincide with abnormally cold ocean waters across the eastern tropical Pacific typical of La Niña episodes."

    This could explain the lack of a SE US Ridge that the models are showing....could we be seeing a pattern change as we speak??? I don't know for sure.

  28. @Novak Sticking with the analogy, it could just be that you haven't been the same now that baseball is being played outside. (Course you were good last year and the Twins were already outside....)

  29. Maybe the poles are switching

  30. Just a alert....Government days at Mall of America
    (Huge Dale) normally happens at the end of Jan. The last two years the people at the NWS have had a display there. I have been there the last two years and have found the people at MPX to be very accommodating. They normally work behind the scenes issuing warnings and watches, sometimes I get the feeling they think they are under appreciated. They really do like to get out in public and talk about what they do. Monitor their website, I think they will announce the intention to be there in the near future. It could be a chance for some of us to meet, so we could put a face to a name. If you go bring a list of question to ask, I think you will enjoy the answers.


  31. @Randy, thanks for that info. Please keep us informed as you learn more.

  32. @big daddy... in response to your post at 7:05 am.. my crystal ball is as foggy as the thickest fog you have ever seen...wait let me update that, it's about as murky as the bottom of the Mississippi River at the Big Easy. Way to much going on with the pattern change, the models are seriously confused. But during those rare times that sunlight shines through it shows the storm track over Southern Missouri which could bring heavy snow to southern and middle Iowa, leaving us at the mercy of clipper systems...so the long and the short of it, is I have no clue. Nor does anyone else.

  33. @Bill...will be more than happy to provide updates

  34. looks to me that the Panhandle Hooker has been busted!!!

  35. @randyinchamplin what do you mean the panhandle hooker has been busted?