Mild Thanksgiving weather weekend in store, but storms possible next week

thu highs 9a
Forecast high temperatures Thursday
NOAA via pivotal weather

Many Minnesotans are gearing up to hit the road Wednesday or Thursday to visit family for Thanksgiving. MPR Chief Meteorologist Paul Huttner is back to give us a little update on the latest outlook for travelers through the holiday weekend.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Many Minnesotans are gearing up to hit the road today or tomorrow to visit family and friends for Thanksgiving. NPR Chief Meteorologist, Paul Huttner is back to give us a little update on the latest outlook for travelers through the holiday weekend. Hey, welcome back, Paul.

PAUL HUTTNER: Hey. You too. And happy Thanksgiving week to and yours.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, nice. Right back at you. Say, let's start with that travel weather here, which it looks pretty decent here. What's the latest outlook?

PAUL HUTTNER: Yeah, probably the biggest weather news people can use on a day like today is what's going on in the next few days here travel wise. It is outstanding today. It's sunny across all of Minnesota. We're already close to 40 in Ely. It's still 28 up in Hallock in the Northwest corner of the state.

But lots of 30s and lots of 40s in the south. We just hit 44 in the Twin Cities. It's 52 in Southwest Minnesota around Marshall. No snow on the ground south and west of the Minnesota River. So roads are in great shape, Cathy. They'll stay that way through today.

The only little fly in the ointment here is tonight, early tomorrow morning in a couple of spots. Northwest through North Central, Northeast Minnesota, there's a little ribbon of maybe a mix of a little light freezing drizzle and light snow that'll come through. It does not look like a big deal. But you know how it is, with temperatures below freezing up there in the morning, could be enough to cause a few slick spots. So keep an eye out for that basically northern half of Minnesota.

And Twin Cities, maybe a little foggy start to Thanksgiving day. Also Southern Minnesota, maybe a few sprinkles. But generally, highs in the 30s tomorrow. We'll warm up as we head into the weekend again. Black Friday, around 40.

I think we'll be in the 40s Saturday. Southern Minnesota, 30s up north, Cathy. We turn cooler again on Sunday. So overall, great travel weather, just that little possible fly in the ointment late tonight and tomorrow up north.

CATHY WURZER: OK, duly noted. Say, I did not know this, but I understand that Thanksgiving has the most extremes for weather for any Minnesota holiday historically.

PAUL HUTTNER: Yeah. If you think about it, we're on the verge of the cusp of fall and winter. So we get some wild weather swings this time of year. It's that transition zone where we get Arctic air masses to the north, and we can still have mild air coming in from the Southern Plains. And we get both in Minnesota for Thanksgiving weekend.

Here's a quick example. 2012, 60 degrees-- that was close to the record for Thanksgiving. Just two years later, 2014, it was 4 below in the Twin Cities. So we get these free sweeping air masses. We average in the 30s. About 1 in 13 years, we hit the 50s and an inch of snow on the ground about 1 in 3 years in Thanksgiving. We'll see if we keep an inch tomorrow after the melt today.

International Falls though, an inch of snow on the ground for Thanksgiving about 7 of 10 years. So it gives you the difference across Minnesota from north to South.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. OK, hey, let's talk about Buffalo for a minute. That's incredible.

PAUL HUTTNER: Unreal-- 81.2 inches, Cathy. That's the highest total I've seen so far. That's near Hamburg, which is just south of Buffalo. What's that-- 6' 9" plus. Orchard Park right next door had 80 inches. It looks like they set an all-time two-day state snowfall record for New York, 72.4 inches in Hamburg. That unofficially breaks the record of 69.3 which is set back in 1988. Very, very intense.

And just some perspective here. That 81 inches of snow, right, our average snow in the latest 30 year averages for the Twin Cities is 51.2 inches. So that's a winter's worth, plus 30 inches in five days.

CATHY WURZER: That's amazing. I love the video of the guy who opened his garage door, and there was a 6 foot snowdrift right in front of it.

PAUL HUTTNER: Yeah, they do that.

CATHY WURZER: Close the door. Can't do anything with that one. Let's talk about any snow around here. I mean, if you look into the next week, there is this potential for maybe a little bit of something next week?

PAUL HUTTNER: There is. It looks like about Wednesday-ish. But boy, I'll tell you what. The models have been all over the place on this. Some are taking the storm south. Some are taking it faster through and north. There really is no consensus yet on what will happen.

But it looks like about Wednesday, there's a low pressure system coming somewhere into the upper Midwest. I don't know if it'll be rain, snow, if it'll be heavy. This morning's models weren't that optimistic about it. So we'll just have to watch it. Cathy, it usually takes 48 hours is that window when you start to believe the models because these systems are still way out in the Pacific Ocean, and they're not even into the surface weather grid across the US.

So by Monday, should have a pretty good handle on it hopefully. By next Thursday, we'll know exactly what's going to happen. Right?

CATHY WURZER: Right, exactly. OK. And then the final thing I've been thinking about here is just basic winter outlook. I'm a little confused as to-- are we in La Nina or La Nin-- where are we? La Nina? El Nino?

PAUL HUTTNER: We're in La Nina. And this is a "three-peat." It's the third year. These are pretty rare. This has only happened a couple, two three times in the last 50 years or so. And La Ninas favor cooler, snowier winters in Minnesota. La Nina by the way, is colder than average water in the tropical Pacific. That affects the jet stream and weather patterns even where we live.

So the NOAA 90-day outlooks, December through February, still favoring Colder and snowier than average weather over Minnesota. But again, Cathy, as we've talked about, we're fighting this trend of warmer winters. Winters are 5 degrees warmer on average in Minnesota since 1970.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. And by the way, anything coming up on the Climate Cast that we need to know about?

PAUL HUTTNER: Climate Cast is off this week because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

CATHY WURZER: Good. OK, just want to make sure about that because you have great topics, and I just want to make sure that we were on top of it. Well, I'm going to wish you a happy Thanksgiving.

PAUL HUTTNER: You too. All the best. Thanks, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: Thanks. And of course, that's Paul Huttner. He's our Chief Meteorologist here on MPR News. If you're looking for more weather information-- by the way, I was going to say, there's so much we have here-- Updraft-- that's the blog-- Updraft Blog. You can find that at nprnews.org. And of course, Climate Cast is Paul's podcast about climate change and the science behind climate change.

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