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Blizzard or near-blizzard conditions expected Friday in Red River Valley

This winter season, the Valley has already weathered 6 blizzard warnings. Average winters see three or four.

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FARGO — The Fargo-Moorhead area typically sees about 3-4 blizzard warnings during the winter months, but this winter the number has already reached half a dozen, with another round of blizzard or near-blizzard conditions expected Friday, Feb. 18, when wind gusts could reach 60 mph.

That's according to Jacob Spender, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, who said that before the strong winds arrive early Friday, the region will see very cold wind chill values Wednesday night into Thursday, when wind chill values in the minus teens to minus 20s are expected.

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Some snow is expected ahead of Friday's strong winds, with the northern Red River Valley and northwest Minnesota expected to receive up to an inch of snow in places overnight Thursday, according to the Weather Service.

Wind gusts of 55 to 60 mph are possible in some places starting Friday morning, and the winds will linger for most of the day before tapering off Friday evening, according to the weather service.

A blizzard is defined as having winds of 35 mph or higher and visibility of less than 1/4 of a mile for at least three hours.

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A blizzard that results from snow that has previously fallen is called a ground blizzard.

According to WDAY chief StormTracker meteorologist John Wheeler, the six times blizzard warnings have been issued this winter for Fargo-Moorhead and Red River Valley area all involved ground blizzards.

He said that is in contrast to the winter of 1996-97, which led to major flooding in the spring of 1997.

During that winter, Wheeler said, eight blizzard warnings were issued in the Fargo area, with many of those blizzards dropping a foot or more of snow.

He said it is difficult if not impossible to compare events that generate blizzard warnings because the information used to develop the warnings — such as observations from law enforcement officials — are extremely variable.

He noted that one of the six blizzard warnings issued this winter for the region related to conditions that ultimately never shaped into a true blizzard in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

During the winter of 1996-97, he said, blizzards became so commonplace that, at times, conditions that normally would have generated a blizzard warning just didn't make the grade anymore.

"We were just having so many blizzards that they (weather officials) would just go, 'Winter weather advisory today,' even though the roads were all closed," Wheeler said.

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"Because it is a human element that issues blizzards warnings, it really varies," he added.

According to the weather service, for the area of eastern North Dakota, northwest and west-central Minnesota from the 1979-80 to 2018-19 winter seasons (39 winter seasons):

  • The described region averaged 2.6 blizzard events per year.
  • The 1996-97 and 2013-14 winter seasons each experienced 10 blizzard events, the most during the given time frame
  • This winter season, there have been seven blizzard events — six that have affected the Red River Valley and one that affected only the Devils Lake Basin.

The Fargo-Moorhead area received a record 117 inches of snow during the winter of 1996-97.
So far this winter, the area has received just over 41 inches of snow.

Related Topics: WEATHERRED RIVER VALLEY
I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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