A foot of snow? Major winter storm taking aim Friday

Models cranking out double-digit snowfall totals for parts of Minnesota

Heavy snow falls
Chris Yang blows snow near Dale Street in St. Paul, Minn. Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

This could be the big one for January.

All major forecast models are locking onto a major winter storm for Minnesota Friday. This system looks strong, wet, and probably cold enough for mostly snow across Minnesota. And some forecast models are cranking out double-digit snowfall totals over a foot for parts of Minnesota. That may include the Twin Cities.

Let’s break down the system.

The system

Minnesota’s Friday storm is wrapping up off the coast of the Pacific Northwest today. Check out the beautiful, textbook comma-shaped swirl spinning toward the coast on this GOES-16 visible loop.

NOAA GOES-16 visible loop Wednesday afternoon
NOAA GOES-16 visible loop over the Pacific Northwest Wednesday afternoon
NOAA

Storm track

There is still some forecast model variation on the precise storm track across the Upper Midwest Friday. But the overall picture between models is similar. They spread a shield of moderate to heavy snow across Minnesota Friday into Saturday. Enough warm air could work into southern Minnesota for an icy mix. Further south in Iowa it looks warm enough for rain.

Snow likely begins in southwest Minnesota Friday morning and spreads into the Twin Cities during the morning or midday hours. The heaviest snowfall likely arrives Friday afternoon and Friday night.

Here’s NOAA’s GFS model solution for Friday and Saturday.

NOAA GFS model Friday and Saturday
NOAA GFS model Friday and Saturday
NOAA via tropical tidbits

How much snow?

I hope this isn’t a fool’s errand, but the consistency of the forecast models this week gives me higher than usual confidence on the notion of heavy snowfall totals for most of Minnesota. There is fairly good agreement on widespread 6” to 12” totals across most of Minnesota. And a core of higher-end totals over a foot looks increasingly likely.

Here’s the Canadian model snowfall output through Sunday morning. Look away if snow-squeamish.

Canadian model snowfall output by Sunday morning
Canadian model snowfall output by Sunday morning
NOAA via pivotal weather

It should be noted the GFS model is cranking out even higher totals up to 15 inches for the Twin Cities. The snow to water ratio for this storm looks to average around 10:1, meaning a fairly wet snow.

Bottom line

At this point, the best weather advice for Friday and Saturday is to expect potentially heavy snow. Winter storm watches and warnings are likely, if not certain. Winds will increase on the backside of the system Saturday as temperatures drop.

Be ready for a major shot of snow and winter weather Friday into Saturday. Expect winter storm watches and warnings to be issued in the next 24 hours. (Update: Here’s the winter storm watch issued shortly after this post.)

Including the cities of Cambridge, Center City, Minneapolis, Blaine, St Paul, Stillwater, Chaska, Shakopee, Hastings, Red Wing, Osceola, Rice Lake, Ladysmith, Hudson, River Falls, Prescott, Menomonie, Durand, Chippewa Falls, and Eau Claire

253 PM CST Wed Jan 15 2020 ...WIND CHILL ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM MIDNIGHT TONIGHT TO 6 AM CST THURSDAY... ...WINTER STORM WATCH IN EFFECT FROM FRIDAY MORNING THROUGH SATURDAY AFTERNOON...

* WHAT...For the Wind Chill Advisory, very cold wind chills expected. Wind chills as low as 25 below zero. For the Winter Storm Watch, heavy snow possible. Total snow accumulations of 6 to 10 inches possible. Winds could gust as high as 35 mph.

* WHERE...Portions of northwest and west central Wisconsin and east central and southeast Minnesota.

* WHEN...For the Wind Chill Advisory, from midnight tonight to 6 AM CST Thursday. For the Winter Storm Watch, from Friday morning through Saturday afternoon.

* IMPACTS...Travel could be very difficult. Patchy blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility. The hazardous conditions could impact the morning or evening commute. The cold wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.

* ADDITIONAL DETAILS...The heaviest snow will fall during the second half of Friday, with blowing snow becoming more likely on Saturday as winds increase as the system departs.

Stay tuned as we watch forecast model runs for any potential changes.

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