As much of Minnesota digs out from the first snowstorm of the season, which dumped anywhere from four to eight inches of wet, heavy snow throughout a significant portion of the state, the hope was that it wouldn’t last long because Thursday was supposed to bring rain that could wash much of that away.
However, that plan is being rethought by meteorologists who are now projecting Wright County may be seeing a second and third round of snow before the start of the work week next week.
Wright County Highway Department Maintenance Supervisor Steve Meyer said Tuesday’s storm was stronger than expected and the snow came down so fast around noon that visibility dropped to next to nothing and most of the roads in the county system deteriorated very quickly. The combination kept the Highway Department plow crews on the roads for almost 18 hours.
“When we get hammered that hard so quickly, it sets us back in the plowing because you have to hit a lot of the roads more than once,” Meyer said. “We had all the roads clear of snow and pretty black by 5:30 or 6 this morning for the morning commute. It wasn’t perfect, but they were what I would call fair to good shape, but not dry.”
Just as residents start getting back on the roads for work and school, the bad news is that Round 2 of storms may be on the way tonight into Thursday morning.
There is a cutoff line for a Winter Storm Watch projecting six or more inches of snow that touches the northwest border of the county near Clearwater. While Wright County is just outside the watch box of counties in the heavy snow watch, the bigger problem could be that this weather system won’t be all snow. The Twin Cities are projected to get all rain. As close as St. Cloud is predicted to get all snow. Wright County is in the unenviable spot in between.
“We’ve already been getting updates,” Meyer said. “What the National Weather Service is telling us now is that we could get 2-3 inches of more snow very late tonight and into tomorrow. But, some of the forecasts say it could be snow, rain or an icy mix in between. Obviously, we want one or the other – all rain or all snow – because the ice and freezing rain makes road conditions really bad in a hurry.”
Meyer said that typically in situations like this where there is a cutoff line, the worst place to be is in the middle of all-snow and all-rain. It produces a wintry mix that can be more dangerous for drivers that if it was all snow – even heavy amounts – because ice can coat the surface of the road.
“We’re right on the edge, so we’re going to preparing for freezing rain,” Meyer said. “That’s not a good place to be. We’ll be monitoring it and we’ll be more aggressive with salting the roads if looks like that’s what we’re going to get.”
Meyer and his crew have been receiving updates of projections for the next line of storms. Wright County Emergency Services sends out releases it gets from the National Weather Service as well as other services like Weather Underground. For the next round of storms, Weather Underground is projecting Wright County to receive three inches of snow on average for location starting about 6 a.m. Thursday, which is about the worst time to get a freezing rain event – the typical start of the morning commute. The peak of the storm event is projected to pass over Wright County about noon.
If there is any good news for this round of storms, it is that the temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s, which is conducive to letting the chemicals the Highway Department treats roads with to work more effectively.
“Any time we can get temperatures in the 30s and above freezing, we’ll take it,” Meyer said. “You can still get snow and freezing rain when the temperature is above 32 degrees. The difference is that the salting we do on the roads takes a lot better when you’re in the mid-30s instead of being at 32 or below that. The salt is much more effective when you’re above freezing.”
As if two early-season snow events isn’t enough, a third is potentially on the horizon for the weekend, making a bad situation worse. Meyer’s crew is going to be stretched thin by Sunday if the projections are accurate, but it’s part of the job when you need to clear Minnesota roads for motorists.
“Right now, we’re looking at another 2½ inches on Sunday morning,” Meyer said. “We still a ways out from that, but that’s what the projection is at this time. We’ll keep monitoring that one because, if it comes, we have to be ready to get after it and keep the roads at safe as we can.”