Winter storm brings snow Thursday and Friday: 4 to 8-plus inches likely most areas

Wintry mix to snow Thursday and Friday. High winds in western Minnesota.

A man walks through a parking lot.
Fighting heavy gusts of wind, a man heads into the Target in Burnsville on Dec. 23, 2020.
Chris Juhn for MPR News

Here we go Minnesota.

Our next winter storm brings a wintry mix to all snow Thursday. Snowfall will continue in most areas well into Friday. This storm will bring significant winter travel issues to Minnesota on both Thursday and Friday.

  • Winter storm watches are posted for most of southern Minnesota and up the I-35 corridor through Duluth. These will likely be upgraded to warnings later today.

  • Winter weather advisories are up for western Minnesota for snowfall and blowing snow in high winds.

Winter storm watches and advisories
Winter storm watches and advisories
Twin Cities National Weather Service

Including the cities of Princeton, Mora, Sauk Rapids, Elk River, Cambridge, Center City, Litchfield, Monticello, Minneapolis, Blaine, St Paul, Stillwater, Olivia, Hutchinson, Gaylord, Chanhassen, Chaska, Victoria, Shakopee, Hastings, Redwood Falls, New Ulm, St Peter, Le Sueur, Faribault, St James, Mankato, Waseca, Fairmont, Blue Earth, Osceola, Rice Lake, and Hudson 1037 AM CST Wed Jan 13 2021

...WINTER STORM WATCH IN EFFECT FROM THURSDAY MORNING THROUGH FRIDAY AFTERNOON...

* WHAT...Heavy snow possible. Total snow accumulations of 5 to 9 inches possible. Winds could gust as high as 45 mph.

* WHERE...Portions of northwest and west central Wisconsin and central, east central, south central and southwest Minnesota.

* WHEN...From Thursday morning through Friday afternoon.

* IMPACTS...Travel could be very difficult. Areas of blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility. The hazardous conditions could impact the morning or evening commute. Gusty winds could bring down tree branches.

Here’s my latest thinking on the breakdown of our mid-January winter storm.

The system

This is an interesting and somewhat unusual storm on the weather maps. A low-pressure system around Winnipeg, Manitoba Thursday morning will drop quickly southeast to near La Crosse, Wisconsin Thursday evening. The system will then stall, and deepen as it generates bands of snow on the backside across Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

NOAA’s GFS captures the somewhat unusual evolution of the system between 6 am Thursday and 6 am Friday below.

NOAA GFS model from 6 am Thursday to 6 am Friday
NOAA GFS model from 6 am Thursday to 6 am Friday
NOAA via tropical tidbits

Snowfall totals

There is still some of the usual forecast model variance in snowfall totals across Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

The general consensus favors a zone of 2 to 5 inches in western Minnesota.

The heaviest snowfall axis favors the I-35 corridor from I-90 through the Twin Cities to near Duluth. This looks like a significant system, but I am leaning a little lower than some forecasts on overall snowfall totals with this system.

To my eye a zone of between 4 and 8 inches looks likely either side of I-35 by late Friday. There could be some locally heavier snowfall totals.

NOAA’s GFS model is similar to the European model on totals which favor the mid and lower end of possible snowfall solutions.

NOAA GFS snowfall output by Saturday
NOAA GFS snowfall output by Saturday
NOAA via pivotal weather

NOAA’s NAM 3 km resolution model is similar to the Canadian which favors higher-end snowfall totals.

NOAA NAM 3 km model snowfall output
NOAA NAM 3 km model snowfall output
NOAA via pivotal weather

Here’s is the NWS most likely snowfall solution as of Wednesday morning.

NWS snowfall forecast for Minnesota
NWS snowfall forecast for Minnesota
Twin Cities National Weather Service

Mild storm?

One feature that may favor lower snowfall totals is that temperatures look fairly mild as the system drops south Thursday. Temperatures may stay above the freezing mark at the surface for several hours Thursday. That could reduce snowfall intensity and totals toward the lower end of the snowfall range.

Forecast high temperatures Thursday
Forecast high temperatures Thursday
NOAA

There is some bust potential for this system due to the warm air in my opinion.

Bottom line

A rain-ice-snow mix develops Thursday morning, likely before or during morning rush hours. Expect precipitation to change to snow Thursday and continue on and off well into at least midday hours Friday. Temperatures will be in the 30s Thursday so roads could run from sloppy to greasy slick. Highs winds will cause blowing snow in western Minnesota.

Stay tuned for possible forecast changes with this system.

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