Twin Cities Narrowly Escape Record May Snowstorm

Minneapolis-St. Paul narrowly missed a crushing, record-smashing snowstorm on Wednesday night into Thursday, as a band of extremely heavy snow stalled over the eastern suburbs of the Twin Cities. As of Thursday morning, some locations in southeast Minnesota had received more than 15 inches of snow, which is unprecedented this late in the year. Western Wisconsin was also seeing heavy snow, with more than a foot already on the ground and more to come throughout the day.

Records have likely been broken for single-day May snowfall in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and state snowfall records for the month of May have also been threatened in these states. The snow has been causing power outages by weighing down tree branches and power lines.

The snowy scene in Owatonna, Minn., on Thursday.
Credit: Twitter/Christian McKenzie

Had the storm hit only 50 miles or so further northwest, the Twin Cities would have been in the bullseye for at least a foot of snow, which would have shattered the all-time May snowfall record there, which stands at just 3 inches. That record, which was expected to be broken, may not be exceeded after all, since most of the snow has remained to the east of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where official weather records are taken.

The freakishly heavy May snow totals in Minnesota, along with a barrage of similar storms during April, have helped to erase the long-term drought in the area, and in fact, have raised flooding concerns. As WeatherNation TV meteorologist Paul Douglas described the situation on his blog: “This is the price we're paying for a rapid easing of drought conditions,” he wrote. Douglas noted a big dip in the jet stream across the Midwest and West, saying it is functioning “like a storm incubator . . . pulling moisture north out of the Gulf of Mexico, turning many Midwest counties from drought to flood in the meteorological blink of an eye.”

The weather whiplash seen in parts of the Midwest and Mississippi River Valley in recent years is consistent with climate change projections for more frequent and severe extreme weather events, including heavy precipitation events.

The snow in Minnesota comes courtesy of the same weather system that brought frigid conditions and significant snowfall to Colorado and Wyoming on Tuesday and Wednesday. The biggest snowfall in Colorado was Buckhorn Mountain, which received 28.2 inches. Fort Collins had 16 inches, Breckenridge ski area reported 15.3 inches of snow, and the Denver metro area saw 5 to 12 inches of snow.

24-hour temperature change in Oklahoma, showing drops of 30°F or more in some spots.
Credit: Oklahoma Mesonet.

In Wyoming, Warren Air Force Base, which is home to an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile squadron, received a foot and a half of snow, and Cheyenne picked up 15 inches.

Heavy snow also fell in Iowa, where numerous reports of 6 inches were noted, along with one report of 11 inches.

As Climate Central reported on Wednesday, the rare May snowstorm has been accompanied by an unusual surge of cold air that has reached all the way to southeast Texas. In Oklahoma on Thursday morning, temperatures were as much as 30°F colder than they were 24 hours earlier. According to the Capital Weather Gang blog, Boulder, Colo. saw a low temperature on Wednesday night of 17°F, which was both a daily and monthly record low. And in Laramie, Wyoming, the temperature fell to 7 degrees, its coldest May temperature on record.

Record-low temperatures are also forecast for parts of Texas, possibly including the Houston metro area, through the weekend. 

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