Tuesday, September 18, 2018

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Historic April storm? Ouch! Eau Claire expecting foot of snow this weekend

Potent system targets Midwest, Plains

  • Winter-Storm-Minnesota-2

    Associated Press file photo

Brace yourselves, Chippewa Valley residents. It looks like we’re in for a historic April snowstorm.

Just when a couple of warm days had some folks tempted to put away their shovels and snowblowers for the season, the National Weather Service is predicting 12 inches of snow will fall on Eau Claire this weekend.

The Weather Service, which has issued a winter storm warning for much of west-central Wisconsin for the 24-hour period ending at 1 a.m. Sunday, is forecasting Rice Lake and Ladysmith will get 10 inches of snow, and isolated areas of west-central Wisconsin could receive between 12 and 18 inches of heavy, wet snow.

“If Eau Claire gets a foot of snow, it will be one of only five April storms with a least a foot of snow going back to 1893,” said meteorologist Michelle Margraf of the Weather Service’s regional office in Chanhassen, Minn. “It’s very rare to get a foot of snow in April.”

The agency’s records show the highest one-day April snowfall on record in Eau Claire came on April 11, 1929, when the city received 13 inches. The last significant one-day April storm in Eau Claire left behind 7.4 inches of snow on April 4, 2014. The record snow accumulation for a two-day April storm was 15 inches on April 3-4, 1945.

Margraf predicted the rain Friday night would change to snow around midnight and continue into Sunday, with most of the accumulation done by late tonight. The Weather Service indicated the blizzard conditions will lead to severe winter travel conditions throughout the region, as the storm could bring up to 0.2 inches of sleet and ice accumulations as well. The high temperature Saturday in Eau Claire is expected to be around 30 degrees.

The combination of snow and rainfall over frozen soil also will increase flood potential over the weekend into next week, the agency indicated.

The nasty conditions are the result of a potent, slow-moving spring storm system that began raking the Plains and Midwest on Friday, bringing blizzard conditions to South Dakota and the threat of tornadoes from Texas and Louisiana north all the way to Iowa.

The huge storm, packing enough energy to cause widespread disruption, isn’t unprecedented for April, said Jake Beitlich, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Chanhassen.

“We do get pretty powerful systems coming throughout the Midwest, and on the cold side we do get snow. And this one is particularly strong. So we do have a lot of moisture with it, and a lot of energy,” Beitlich said Friday. “Over the next 24 hours, cold air is going to get wrapped into this system, and we’re going to see a band of heavy snow develop from southwestern Minnesota through northern Wisconsin. Also we’re going to have really strong winds, especially in western Minnesota.”

Blizzard warnings stretched from northern Kansas across most of Nebraska and South Dakota into southwestern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa, with winter storm warnings and watches covering most of the rest of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Heavy snow already blanketed parts of western Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota by early afternoon Friday, closing several roads in western Nebraska.

Severe thunderstorms popped up to the north Friday morning in parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota. Golf ball-sized hail fell Friday morning in parts of southwestern Wisconsin, covering the ground like snow in Richland Center and Gays Mills. Large hail also fell in Parker in southeastern South Dakota, while pea-sized hail fell in nearby Sioux Falls.

“That just kind of again speaks to how strong the system is, where you’re going to get a lot of snow on the cold side, and severe thunderstorms in the warm part of the storm,” Beitlich said.

Snow, freezing rain and high winds were expected through tonight, with heavy ice accumulations in parts of Michigan through Sunday morning.

A swath of southern Minnesota, including the Twin Cities through west-central and northern Wisconsin, was expected to get 8 to 12 inches of snow or more. Parts of Nebraska could get up to 14 inches, with up to 10 inches in Iowa. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph will make travel hazardous.

The Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., forecast severe thunderstorms Friday over parts of eastern Texas and western Louisiana, moving up through Arkansas into Missouri and Iowa. The Weather Service also warned of the potential for tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds for Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and eastern portions of Texas.

Forecasters said Alabama was also at risk for a weekend of severe weather, with the Weather Service predicting storms beginning over northern Alabama early today will create a threat of winds up to 60 mph and tornadoes through Sunday.

The Storm Prediction Center said there’s an enhanced risk of bad weather in an area that includes Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile, and that Montgomery is on the fringe of the risk area.

In South Dakota, where a blizzard warning covered much of the state, authorities issued no-travel advisories Friday for many highways and closed much of Interstate 90 in the western half of the state. Gov. Dennis Daugaard closed state government offices in 32 counties ahead of the approaching blizzard. Dozens of school districts canceled classes ahead of snow accumulation expected to reach 12 to 16 inches. Rapid City had already received 5.5 inches by 10 a.m.

Dangerous fire weather conditions in Oklahoma contributed to wildfires that forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes near Woodward, about 125 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. Emergency crews in western Texas were also battling wildfires amid forecasts of extreme fire danger.

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