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November blizzards common in Red River Valley

November came in like a lamb and left the Red River Valley in a roar. The season's first blizzard on Monday - powered by windy blasts of ice, snow and cold - closed schools, government offices and knocked out power. But November blizzards aren't ...

November came in like a lamb and left the Red River Valley in a roar.

The season's first blizzard on Monday - powered by windy blasts of ice, snow and cold - closed schools, government offices and knocked out power.

But November blizzards aren't unusual.

"November typically is a stormy month," said Dan Riddle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D. "Blizzards are relatively common."

Since the 1995-96 winter, 37 blizzards have pummeled North Dakota and Minnesota, according to National Climatic Data Center archives in Asheville, N.C. Four of those blizzards, including this week's storm, swept through during November.

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Other months during that span have been worse. December had the most blizzards in the 10-year span with nine, followed by January and February with seven each and March with six. October and April each have had two blizzards since the 1995-96 winter.

Snow fell sporadically in Fargo-Moorhead throughout Tuesday. The month's total as of 4 p.m. Tuesday reached8.4 inches, an inch more than normal, according to the National WeatherService.

"November started warm and dry but ended cold and wet," Riddle said.

And the warm temperatures early in November - the first 15 days were considerably warmer than normal - were tempered by the past two weeks, with the forecast calling for subzero lows by week's end.

"The next week we're going to be making up for a warmer November," Riddle said.

The area's first blizzard of the 2005-06 winter season resembled one seven years ago, when winds gusting up to 54 mph swept through the region, carrying 3 to 6 inches of snow on Nov. 10, 1998.

Temperatures started out in the 30s with moist, heavy snow falling on the region. The extra weight, coupled with high winds, snapped power lines and cut off electricity to residents in Minnesota and North Dakota.

The weather service defines a blizzard as a storm sustaining winds or gusts of 35 mph or more that reduce visibility to one-quarter of a mile or less for at least three hours.

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This week's storm brought rain and then snow, knocking out power to thousands. And like the 1998 storm, stretches of Interstate 29 were closed.

The 1998-99 winter dumped 48.6 inches of snow on Fargo, 8½ inches more than normal.

During the 1996-97 winter, a November blizzard marked the first of eight that socked the Red River Valley.

But weather experts caution against using this month's snowfall or blizzard to predict how bad this winter season will get.

"I don't think you can predict anything dramatic about this storm," said John Enz, state climatologist for North Dakota.

Some years start with bad storms and turn mild, or vice versa, he said.

"There's nothing wrong with drawing comparisons, it would be wrong to draw conclusions," said Ed O'Lenic, senior meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Md. "We don't know the frequency of storminess."

The CPC predicts weather variability but reliable weather data only exists from the past 50 years or so.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the CPC, predicts a slightly warmer and wetter winter compared to the 30-year average.

"It's impossible to predict (weather) more than a week in advance," O'Lenic said. "To predict storminess, we would probably need a thousand years of data."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Steven P. Wagner at (701) 241-5542

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