Wintry time-warp; How Minnesota’s cold drives California firestorm

Winter rolled into Minnesota like a freight train. Like a red-eye flight to a far away country we awoke to a strange, snow-sculpted landscape Tuesday.

Wind-driven snowscape in Victoria. Paul Huttner | MPR News

Chaotic snowfall pattern

Monday night’s snowfall was like a patchwork quilt. Snowstorms have many moving parts. Different sub-features drive snow zones within the bigger storm.

The “baroclinic leaf zone” northwest of surface low track drove heaviest snow totals in northwest Minnesota near Lake of the Woods. A separate upper-level vortex spawned the evening snow burst neat the Twin Cities. A relatively snowless wedge developed between St. Cloud and Duluth.

Nightmare morning commute

The Tuesday morning commute was one for the books. A stark reminder that we live in a climate where the weather can change your life in a hurry. We should get an “I survived a Minnesota winter commute” T-Shirt.

Cold locked in

Like a light switch, our seasons have flipped in an instant. Winter is here to stay. Get used to mostly subfreezing temperatures for the foreseeable future. Sunday looks like the “mildest” day in sight.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, via Weather Bell

Here to stay

I still see persistent cold the next two weeks. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Forecast System continues to feature a potential subzero shot in the two week range.

Subtract 10 degrees for northern Minnesota.

NOAA GFS 16-day temperature output for Minneapolis, via tropical tidbits

Minnesota’s cold wave drives California fire weather

It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world – Chaos Theory


Well maybe not exactly. But big cold outbreaks in the Midwest have a link to California’s Santa Ana winds. As cold air dives south in the central United States the momentum of that cold dense air mass funnels through the mountain passes in the western U.S.

NOAA, via Wikipedia

The air warms and dries as it descends toward the coast. That’s what has created the extreme fire weather driving the latest batch of southern California wildfires.

The urban wild-land interface is torching neighborhoods again. This time it’s Ventura, California.

Simi Valley is also under threat.

The extreme fire weather danger continues this week.

Health impacts extend beyond the fire zone.

This story is not over.

  • Chris C

    This mornings update and this evenings had charts from the GFS runs. I noted on 12/18 and 19 they deviated by 20-30 degrees. I do CFD modeling in my business so I think I understand this a bit. I’m assuming these were subsequent runs. How does such a significant change occur when the inputs from one to the other can’t be that much different given the close time frame of the inputs? I can see incremental changes over several runs given the changes in inputs from day to day. I get the extended forecast isn’t reliable but it’s only 13 days out. Some weather reporters, like the Weather Channel offer a 15 day forecast. Why would anyone but theoretical modeling researchers print this data is it swings that far between runs. Seems its whatever is more than useless.

    • MPR Weather

      Great question Chris. I always say use the longer range output for temperature trends, rather than absolute values. The good forecasters I know look for trend shifts in week 2, and pretty much ignore absolute values. If I see the same trend on 3-4 consecutive model runs, we may have something. Temperature trends are far more reliable in week 2 than daily temps & precip values. So to me, there is value in watching the longer range numbers for trend lines.

  • MJI

    You mean Tuesday morning commute, not Monday, right?
    Waiting for the bus was terrible. The bus had to be an hour and some minutes late. I try to leave early for work in case there are delays, but this time it couldn’t be avoided. Fortunately I have an understanding supervisor and they were okay with me being about 15 min late for work.