Where's the snow? Meteorologist Sven Sundgaard answers

snow models into wknd
Various computer model forecasts for total snowfall into the weekend.
NOAA via pivotal weather

If you look outside it doesn’t feel like winter — and doesn't really look like winter in most of the state.

To break down why this is happening and our next chance for snow is MPR News meteorologist Sven Sundgaard, in for Paul Huttner this week.

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

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: If you look outside, it does not feel like winter, doesn't really even look like winter in most of the state. And to break down why this is happening, and our next chance for some snow, is MPR meteorologist Sven Sundgaard in for Paul Huttner this week. Hey, Sven.


CATHY WURZER: The snow drought is making many people a little depressed. What's going on here?

SVEN SUNDGAARD: Yeah, I know winter can be polarizing. You either love it or hate it. But yeah, it's a combination of factors. One thing is the El Niño pattern we've talked about.

But it is worth noting that despite being very mild in November and so far, of course, for December, we've also had just a lack of precipitation period. November precipitation in the Twin Cities, we saw only 0.04 of an inch of liquid equivalent. That's only 2% of our normal precept.

Now, it was a little better in Northeastern Minnesota. Duluth saw 67% of normal precipitation. But a lot of that fell as rainfall because there too temperatures were pretty mild. And southwestern Minnesota had no precipitation reported in some spots, driest November ever.

So that's partly to blame too were just this drought pattern we've had since May, other than that, bizarre blip of three or four weeks. In September and October, of course, we had a lot of rainfall, but then it's as though somebody turned the faucet off again. And it's having an impact on snow depths.

Of course, we have no snow really in the Twin Cities, also Brainerd. An inch of snow depth only in Duluth and International Falls. Normal snow depths for this time of the year in early December should be about 4 inches, Duluth, Brainerd, 5 inches even, and should see about 7 to 8 inches along parts of the higher terrain of the North Shore. Finland, Isabella, and then further north and west up towards Lake Kabetogama should also have at least a 1/2 foot of snow on the ground and most of those places are barren right now.

CATHY WURZER: Wow! I wonder in terms any long-range snow that we might see here in terms of these forecasts?

SVEN SUNDGAARD: Yeah, so one of the things we look at in the medium range, that two weeks to three week period, are these ensemble models, so your classic models. Everybody's probably heard about the American, European, Canadian model. We run several different perturbations. We call of them little tweaks to the models and then average them together.

And for the Twin Cities and Southern Minnesota, they really yield only about a 1/2 inch to maybe 2 or 3 inches from now until the winter solstice. We should get 6 inches of snow in the period. So continued below normal precipitation, but also mild temperatures.

Now, Northern Minnesota, it looks maybe slightly better. 2 to 4 inches in the next two weeks in those areas and temperatures will be colder there. So Northern Minnesota's got at least whatever they get could stick around because it'll be cooler. But the mild temperatures are also playing into a lot of this.

CATHY WURZER: Obviously, El Niño, which we're in, I've heard decreases the odds of a white Christmas substantially.

SVEN SUNDGAARD: Substantially, yeah. We scratched the surface of this yesterday, but it was pretty surprising to me when I really dug into the data. We know winters are very mild in Minnesota in an El Niño year, but 56% of El Niño winters have a brown Christmas. Because we always get asked this question, so I was going to preemptively strike on this.

It really is a startling figure. It's more than double the odds of a brown Christmas in an El Niño year. And part of that is because temperatures are warmer. In fact, on Christmas Day itself, temperatures average six degrees warmer in an El Niño Christmas compared to normal.

But also, we do get about 23% less snowfall overall in a winter season in an El Niño year. So less snow, warmer temperatures seem to play into that. So if I was a betting man, it's going to be real close this year between whether we can barely pull it off or not.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, shoot. All right, and in the meantime, we're dealing with some strangely mild weather for this time of the year.

SVEN SUNDGAARD: Yeah and, of course, this is part of the problem we're just talking about. We're already up to 45 now in the Twin Cities, 52 Montevideo, 50 in Marshall right now. So mild temperatures and we're going to see 30s.

Little cooler in Northern Minnesota, but a breezy day too. We're seeing some wind gusts 20 to 30 miles an hour in Southern Minnesota as that warmer air is moving in. And tomorrow's going to be even warmer, Cathy. We're talking about more sunshine, highs probably into the 50s in the Twin Cities.

Now, the record high tomorrow is 54. That could be in jeopardy it looks as though Southwestern Minnesota, some of those places I just mentioned, Marshall, Montevideo might be into the 60s.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, my gosh! All right, that is really odd. So are we going to-- is there any normal weather coming our way?

SVEN SUNDGAARD: We're going to get closer to it. But that's the other thing, there's no Arctic air in sight. We're looking for that in December and I don't see any of that. We're going to see a day of transition on Friday.

Colder air comes in with a clipper system in Northern Minnesota, but we'll still squeeze out another mild day in Southern Minnesota. I think we'll still hit 50 in the Twin Cities, probably into the low 50s in Southeastern Minnesota. Some snow for Northern Minnesota looks like out of that clipper northwesternmost corner of the state. Places like Hallock, Roseau might squeeze out an inch or 2 of snow.

And then we're watching another system that's going to develop to our south and southeast similar to a system we saw a week ago that could clip Southeastern Minnesota. But right now the favored track is probably Iowa, Illinois, Southern Wisconsin could see a narrow area of snow and then quite a bit of rain for places probably like Chicago.

CATHY WURZER: So are we going to miss another big one then? That's what it sounds like.

SVEN SUNDGAARD: Looks like for most of us, we will. If we're lucky, in Southeastern Minnesota could get some of the effects of that storm, places like Rochester and maybe La Crosse.

CATHY WURZER: All right, Sven, I appreciate this. I hope you have a good day. Thank you.

SVEN SUNDGAARD: I will. You too, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: We've been talking to meteorologist Sven Sundgaard.

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