Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Weather Heartbreaker, Minnesota Style

In the end, even the weather produced a Vikings-esque performance.

In a winter that’s already established a number of daily warm records, a bigger, more significant and telling mark lay ahead. If the Twin Cities could go until Thursday, January 19 without recording a temperature below zero, it would establish a new standard for the latest sub-zero ever recorded – the ultimate warm record for this northern locale.

Never in the history of the Twin Cities had a zero degree reading meant so much.
The stage was set for this momentous weather achievement. As of Wednesday morning (January 18), the National Weather Service was predicting a record, forecasting temps to stay above zero until the wee hours of Thursday morning (January 19). Most other local weather outlets, while stopping short of guaranteeing a new record, were clearly expecting January 18 to be free of sub-zero temps. Even as late as early evening, The Weather Channel forecast temps to be three degrees above zero as the calendar turned to Thursday.

Hourly temperatures forecast by The Weather Channel
At 6 p.m. on January 18, the temperature was 25. While forecasters warned that the temperature would "drop like a toilet lid," the idea that it could drop 26 degrees before the clock struck midnight was considered highly unlikely. In a “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment, Star Tribune meteorologist Paul Douglas wrote the following in his daily weather blog, authored Wednesday evening (for reading on Thursday morning):

Welcome to the first subzero morning of winter, and a record-breaking one at that. We set a record for the latest subzero on record in the metro.

Indeed, the Twin Cities stood on the precipice. The champagne was on ice. Weather geeks around the metro area were looking for the Gatorade jug.

However, shortly after 6:30 p.m., just five and a half hours before the finish line, the temperature began a steady decline. From 6:33 p.m. to 6:53 p.m. the temperature dropped nearly six degrees to 19. But that still required a further drop of 20 degrees in the next five hours. The record seemed as safe as a commanding Twins lead with Joe Nathan taking the mound in the ninth inning (well, at least in better years).

Then Mother Nature began to heave a Hail Mary. The hour from 7-8 p.m. brought a staggering 10-degree drop in temperature to a bitter nine degrees, rocking the psyche of those who wanted to live through a most unlikely record. It was time to sweat; a photo finish looked increasingly likely.

Official temperatures recorded at MSP airport.
By this time, weather watching, or more specifically temperature watching, became a spectator sport among Twin Cities weather hobbyists and professional meteorologists alike. The words of @dlhmnwx30 said it best: “Eating popcorn while watching temp at MSP. Will it stay above 0 thru midnight?”

The prospect of setting a record grew darker with each passing hour. At 9 p.m., it was six degrees. An hour later it was a mere two. We were Rangers fans watching the Cardinals putting together a most unlikely two-out ninth inning rally.

The situation grew dire by 11 p.m., when the official airport temperature dropped to an even zero. All the work it took to set the stage for this unlikely, extraordinary record for mildness was on the verge of being wasted.

Lacking the ability to build an enclosed wall around the airport thermometer gauge, it was a forgone conclusion. The same destiny that produced four Super Bowl losses and a long dearth of sports champions (sorry, we can’t count the Links), was at work on the Twin Cities record books.

By 11:25 p.m. the temp officially dropped to one degree below zero. It remained there through midnight, cementing a weather consolation prize that left many disappointed.

Call it a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. In weather, as in sports, a tie is like kissing your sister.

The Minnesota Forecaster provides analysis of both the weather and those who forecast the weather for the Twin Cities. For periodic updates, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. This was awesome Bill,great job was a good/funny read,just went to the trib and PD corrected his error on the morning update,now reads TIED a record on his blog.

  2. @Anonymous @Big Daddy Glad you enjoyed it. Sometimes I think I'm getting pretty far "out there." :-) Also, PD may have corrected his headline but deep in the text, he still has it wrong.

  3. That this was a great write-up. I'm normally up past midnight, but missed out on all the excitement when I fell asleep early last night. However, I was seeing if the temp could stay below zero until noon. I believe McDonald's is running a promotion where if you buy an egg McMuffin or a Big Mac, you can get a 2nd one for the cost of the Noon temperature the day before. I think we were at negative 2 degrees at Noon at MSP yesterday.

    I was definitely surprised to see double digits below zero yesterday morning.
    I'm lovin' it.

  4. Flakes flying in Eden Prairie and down right cold,2 above,who ever said its too cold for snow!

  5. Very entertaining. In the meantime, the radar shows the snow drying up all around the metro. If the radar is correct...unbelievable! An hour there was a solid snow band everywhere south of St. Cloud.

  6. I don't like the way the GFS is handling the Sunday/Monday storm. It appears to be the outlier. It shows a strong 500mb vortmax AND a major league trough digging into the southern Plains yet no surface low pressure system to accompany them? I don't like it.

    Gut feeling is that the Euro's are onto something when they develop a classic Winter Storm over the Upper Midwest and surface low that tracks from KS to WI. This will be a fun situation to discuss later today & during the weekend.

  7. Looks like the La Crosse, NWS is going with GFS -


  8. This afternoon's AFD for La Crosse is now starting to lean towards the Euro's outlook.