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Where's the snow in the Twin Cities? An explainer from Sven Sundgaard

It wasn't a bust for everyone in Minnesota.

If you're wondering where all of the snow is Friday morning, you're not alone. But there are explanations for what's happening with this snowstorm in Minnesota, starting with the fact that it's not over yet. 

"We’re not done. We will see snow on and off much of today, tapering off this evening," says meteorologist Sven Sundgaard. "That will yield about 1”-2” more (maybe even 3” in a few places southeast where heavier bands set up). So, totals will end up in the 3”-6” range for most of the metro area." 

The National Weather Service predicted 6-10 inches of snow for the metro, though noted that some of it would melt and compact because of warm temperatures, which would make it appear that not as much snow as forecast had fallen.

Was this snowstorm a bust? To a certain degree, sure, but not completely. 

BMTN's weather crew, Sven and Novak Weather, predicted 5-8 inches and 4-6+ inches, respectively, for the Twin Cities. MSP Airport, as of 7:40 a.m., had a storm total of 3 inches. 

Areas south of the Twin Cities did get closer to what was forecast by the weather service, Sven and Novak. As of 7 a.m., Albert Lea and Owatonna had picked up 6 inches of fresh snow, with another few inches possible to get them closer to the 10-inch mark. Around 4 inches fell in Mankato and Rochester, with a bit more possible through the day Friday. 

But push come to shove, Minnesotans aren't getting the big piles of snow one might expect with a typical January snowstorm. That's a product of it being a lot warmer than normal for this time of year. 

"The obvious problem with keeping much of that snow is how warm it’s been (and bizarre for mid January)," Sven says. "We’ve been at or above freezing consistently since 11 a.m. yesterday. 

"Temps since midnight have been above freezing the entire time and we peeked at 35 yesterday. That meant snow was falling at a less than 10:1 ratio much of the time and compacting and melting. We measure snow at the airport four times per day, but in a warm situation what you measure at one time is not going to be the same as 6 or 12 hours earlier with melting."

The models also weren't great at predicting this storm. Take the NAM model as an example, as it predicted some really high amounts that didn't come close to being accurate. 

The NAM model was way too aggressive. 

The NAM model was way too aggressive. 

"The models over-did the amount of water in this storm. The NAM takes the title of supreme loser this go around. It was forecasting about 1” of water! That always seemed crazy, still some went for 10” snowfall predictions," said Sven. "The European was most accurate. It’s early morning run yesterday gave the metro 4”-5” in total. With just over 1/2” water equivalent (remember some fell as rain yesterday & not snow)."

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Blizzard ongoing in parts of Minnesota

While the situation in the metro is fairly calm considering there's a winter storm blowing through, that isn't the case in other parts of Minnesota, namely southwestern areas that are getting hit by blizzard conditions. 

In fact, part of Interstate 90 in southwest Minnesota is closed due to whiteout conditions, and no-travel advisories are in place in other parts of southern and western Minnesota. Blizzard conditions are expected to continue in the warning area through the day Friday. 

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Climate change and lack of data making models worse?

Meteorologist Paul Douglas, who hosts an afternoon drive radio show on AM 830 WCCO in Minneapolis, joined the station's morning show Friday to help explain why the storm basically "fizzled."

"The fact that it's in the mid-30s in mid-January," said Douglas, noting that this was a warm storm. "It's easy to get swept up in the weather model hype. We have dueling models and we display the models full transparency, trying to give listeners an understanding of what meteorologists go through."

"Is it the lack of data?" he wondered. "We have fewer commercial flights ... these planes have sensors and they send back real-time information, and all that data in the upper-atmosphere goes into initializing the weather models. If you have fewer flights, you have less data in the upper-atmosphere. I don't know."

"The honest answer is, I don't know," said Douglas. 

Sven's take on the climate change speculation?

"Remember how everyone was going crazy we’d see a cold, snowy winter? I cautioned all fall that with the pace of warming on the planet, especially a very crazy year in the arctic, old predictions are irrelevant," said Sven, noting that 2020 nearly tied 2016 as the hottest year on record, globally.

"Could models be having difficulty with a bizarre, warmer world with less reliable data? I have no idea, and not enough research has been done to know," Sven continued. "Certainly math hasn’t changed, but behavior and data have. Models like the American have tried to bring in cold all winter in its 10- to 16-day period and it never happens, and keeps getting pushed further into the future. It’s also less reliable that far out, like any model, but makes one wonder…"

Sven notes that Thursday was the meteorological halfway point of winter and so far Minnesota is running "more than 6.5 degrees above normal," putting Minnesota on pace for the eighth-warmest winter on record.

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