Blizzard, extreme cold send North Dakota into deep freeze

By Bryce Martin

Pioneer Editor

North Dakota saw some of its coldest days Sunday and Monday, with life-threatening wind chills sending the area into a deep freeze.

A Radio Flyer wagon sits untouched in Bowman Monday morning as children are forced inside by the subzero temperatures. Schools were closed across the state on Monday as a result of this cold weather.
A Radio Flyer wagon sits untouched in Bowman Monday morning as children are forced inside by the subzero temperatures. Schools were closed across the state on Monday as a result of this cold weather.

Published January 10, 2014

The Herald

Wind chill temperatures in the city of Bowman reached around -50 degrees, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) in Bismarck. By late afternoon on Sunday, the sky was cloudless, but that only worsened the extreme subzero temperatures, which were topped with gusty winds.

Air temperatures steadied around the -20s over the weekend, with windy, mostly cloudy conditions on Saturday and on-and-off sun throughout Sunday. Combined with the wind chills, it made for a couple of the coldest days southwestern North Dakota has experienced.

A very expansive area of high pressure that came down out of Canada was to blame for the low temperatures.

“Ahead of that high pressure was, on the leading edge of the cold air, the cold front that came through on Friday,” said John Paul Martin, a NWS forecaster in Bismarck. “The combination of the temperatures in the teens and 20s below zero, and wind speeds of 15 to 30 mph the past day or so, caused the wind chills, (with) most everybody in the 50s below (zero). We did have some in the 60s below zero.”

The National Weather Service does not maintain annual record temperatures for the Bowman area, but the lowest wind chill recorded for Bowman through 10 a.m. Monday was -52 degrees, according to the NWS website. Bowbells, about one hour northwest of Minot, was reported to have the lowest wind chill in the state at -62 degrees.

While the conditions are not unheard of within North Dakota, Martin said they typically do not occur more than a couple times during the winter.

“Even though it’s been a cold winter, this was still some of the worse conditions to affect the entire state that we’ve had,” he said.

Prior to the onslaught of the freezing temperatures came a well-hyped blizzard that struck most of the state.

“We had some snow, some freezing rain, some sleet and then we had the wind that caused blizzard conditions, but they were fairly short-lived during the day, later part of Friday,” Martin said. “By Saturday morning, visibility was improved again.”

The storm was well hyped during the week via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and Martin said the storm, for the most part, lived up to such expectations, but said he does not like to use the term “hype.”

“The National Weather Service doesn’t (hype),” he said. “We issue a forecast of what we feel is going to happen. Our forecast was for a blizzard – for some freezing rain and snow Friday and then a blizzard later Friday into Saturday.”

Martin said the NWS believed the blizzard conditions would last longer than they did, lasting for an average of 4 to 6 hours instead of the predicted 12.

“Every winter, do we get cold? You bet we do,” he said. “But … this was not only the very cold outbreaks that we get, this was on the extreme end of those cold snaps.

“I sure wouldn’t want my child standing outside, waiting for a bus this morning.”

Because of the extreme cold, most schools in the state opted to cancel for Monday and some for Tuesday. It is a decision made solely by the local districts and not state officials.

Bowman County and Scranton schools made their decision early Sunday to cancel school for Monday, which would have been the first day back for students from winter break.

“Local administrators watch forecasts vigilantly,” said Kirsten Baesler, N.D. State Superintendent of Public Instruction. “They know their local conditions and factors that affect student safety and make decisions accordingly.”

When extreme winter weather is predicted, administrators monitor numerous sources for forecasts and road conditions, and take snowfall, temperature, wind speed, wind chill and other local factors into consideration. If a district decides to hold classes, but parents are still concerned for their children’s safety, parents may choose to pick up their children early or keep them home from school, according to Baesler.

Businesses such as the Cedar Chest and ABLE, Inc. also closed due to the cold.

“A lot of us are from out-of-town and we decided not to have our workers come in today,” said Carolynne Jones, manager at ABLE, Inc.

Elsewhere around the county, some people were spotted going about business as usual – filling up their gas tanks, shopping for groceries and utilizing other open local businesses. For the most part, however, most people stayed indoors.

WARM UP IN THE FORECAST

Despite winter only beginning on Dec. 21, Bowman County has already encountered several rare, severe weather events.

n October, a once-in-a-decade early snowstorm covered the area and most of North and South Dakota, with many inches of snow. The storm, given the name Atlas by the National Weather Service, was responsible for widespread cattle deaths and traffic crashes.

Prior to autumn, Bowman experienced one of its most rainy summers, pushing back harvest time and damaging crops.

The winter has already shown example of what may be in store. For at least the near future, however, the NWS does not predict any massive snowstorms or unbearably cold temperatures.

As of Monday, a slight warm-up began for the Bowman area.

Temperatures overnight Monday rose steadily, forcing the low temperature to occur in the evening rather than overnight, with temperatures continuing to rise a few degrees into Tuesday morning.

That warming trend will continue into the weekend, with the NWS predicting temperatures around freezing for Bowman and into the central part of the state.

Those temperatures would be considered above normal, according to Martin.

The normal highs are typically in the lower 20s for this time of year, but, in the next two weeks, Bowman could reach into the mid-30s, perhaps even the 40s as Martin suggested.

“There’s some good news here – the coldest of the air is moving out (Monday) and we’ll start slow moderating later this week,” Martin said.

The last week of January, however, may signal a return back to a much colder period, he said.

Over the next few weeks, the NWS does not foresee any large quantities of snow, but as warmer air comes in, typically there would be some slight snow with it.

“It’s like when you go outside and you breathe out and see your breath,” Martin said. “That’s kind of what’s happening in the atmosphere – we’re getting that warmer air overrunning the cold air, so you get clouds to form and usually some light snow.”

 

 

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