Fargo-Moorhead has endured 4 blizzards this winter— does that make it one of the worst?
FARGO — So you think there's a lot of snow out there?
Well it's enough to close schools, businesses, city offices and interstates in the region, thanks also to the wind. But the snowfall this season is not even in the historical top 10 and is a far cry from the 117 inches in the brutal winter of 1996-1997.
In fact, the season total is only in the mid-30 inch range after 5.3 inches fell in Fargo from Wednesday afternoon until it quit on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 7.
There were much higher totals elsewhere in the region, with 11 inches reported near Ada and 9.5 inches in Hendrum in northwest Minnesota, but only 3 inches in Detroit Lakes.
In North Dakota, 12 inches were reported 4 miles north of Fargo, according to meteorologist John Hoppes of the National Weather Service, and 10. 5 inches just west of Fargo. But there were only 2.5 inches in Grand Forks.
In the Fargo-Moorhead metro area, there was a variation, too, as WDAY Chief Meteorologist John Wheeler said there was a report of 7 inches in north Moorhead, which received more snow in the first band of snow on Wednesday.
However, as the snow subsided Thursday afternoon, the wind didn't stop blowing as blizzard conditions were forecast until 9 p.m. Thursday. Capt. Bryan Niewind of the North Dakota Highway Patrol said the interstates from Grand Forks to the South Dakota border would be closed overnight into Friday and that no travel in the southeast region was recommended.
No travel was also recommended in western Minnesota. At 5 p.m. Thursday, Interstate 94 was closed from Fergus Falls to Moorhead and U.S. Highway 10 from Dilworth to Lake Park was also closed about the same time, said Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow. Later in the night, the patrol closed all highways in seven west-central Minnesota counties as they said multiple vehicles were blocking the roads and that there were whiteout conditions with the blowing snow. Those counties included Wilkin, Big Stone, Grant, Pope, Stevens, Swift and Traverse.
Farther south, roads were closed across eastern South Dakota, including Interstate 29 with wind gusts of up to 50 mph expected.
To add to the misery, a wind chill warning was in effect until Friday at noon with dangerous wind chills of up to 45 below as air temps were expected to be 20 below overnight with a high temperature of only 11 below on Friday.
Hoppes said this was the fourth blizzard of the season, which is above normal as there are usually only two or three blizzards per year. The weather service defines a blizzard as having wind speeds of 35 mph or more and considerable falling or blowing snow, with visibility of less than a quarter mile for three or more hours.
But back to the snow depth, Wheeler said there IS a lot of snow out there as the last two weeks have seen several waves of snowfall.
However, the depth is only about 12 inches, which is about normal for this time of year and close to the average of about 11 inches, Wheeler said.
What makes it seem like more snow, he said, is that for the past five winters there hasn't been much snow at all. In fact, he said one recent winter there wasn't more than an inch of snowfall until late January.
"It's just more snow than we are used to," Wheeler said.
Hoppes wouldn't argue with that. It's been almost a decade since there were any seriously high levels of snow in the region. The last major snowfall season was in 2010-2011 when Fargo saw 88.4 inches, which was the third highest on the top 10 list. Another winter with a high level of snow was 2008-2009, with 79.7 inches.
However, this winter's four blizzards make it seem a bit worse, although Hoppes said there were almost 10 blizzards in 1996-1997.
Wheeler said the highs on Saturday and Sunday could inch over the zero mark during the day, and it'll be warmer on Monday and Tuesday, with highs in the lower teens.
But then guess what on Monday night into Tuesday? It could snow again, Wheeler said.