8 Blizzards Slammed Parts of North Dakota and Minnesota During the 2018-19 Snowfall Season

Linda Lam
Published: April 20, 2019

Portions of eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota experienced 8 blizzards during the extreme 2018-19 snowfall season.

Heavy snowfall and colder-than-average temperatures were accompanied at times by strong winds, exacerbating the brutal conditions and resulted in blizzard conditions in parts of the Plains at times.

The area covered by the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Grand Forks, North Dakota, tallied 8 blizzards in at least part of the area during the 2018-19 season. Although blizzards are not unusual here, the NWS says that the area typically experiences just one to two blizzards each winter season.

As a reminder, a blizzard is defined when sustained winds or frequent gusts to at least 35 mph and considerable falling and/or blowing snow that frequently reduces visibility to less than a quarter-mile for at least three hours.

Several strong low-pressure systems tracked close to the region, allowing snow and gusty winds to impact the northern Plains and upper Midwest.

The 8 blizzards that impacted eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota this season is the third-highest in the past 40 winters there, according to Aaron Kennedy, an atmospheric scientist. Only the 1996-97 and 2013-14 season saw a higher number of blizzards in the Grand Forks area.

Contour on the map is seasonal snowfall through April 20, 2019.

In addition, both Grand Forks and Fargo have measured more snowfall than average. Grand Forks has received 69.6 inches of snowfall through April 19, which is the fifth-highest seasonal snowfall total on record there. The most snow in a season was 96.4 inches in 1996-97. Fargo has seen 65.4 inches of snowfall which is almost 16 inches more than an average snowfall season.

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Every month from December to April experienced a blizzard in the Grand Forks region.

The first blizzard this season was during Winter Storm Eboni on Dec. 27-28, which brought snow from the Sierra to Maine and blizzard conditions in the Plains. The blizzard on Dec. 31 was not due to falling snow but from blowing snow that had already accumulated. Blizzard conditions were observed twice in January, during winter storms Indra and Jayden.

February saw two more blizzards in the area. The first was Winter Storm Lucian on Feb. 7 and the second was Winter Storm Quiana on Feb. 24. Then in mid-March Winter Storm Ulmer, also known as the bomb cyclone, paralyzed travel and set new low-pressure records in portions of the Plains.

Although Spring had arrived, even April also saw a blizzard, Winter Storm Wesley, which brought more than two feet of snow to parts of the Dakotas and Minnesota, along with strong winds.

The area that experienced 8 blizzards this season is a part of "Blizzard Alley," which covers an area from the Front Range of Colorado and southeastern Wyoming into the Dakotas, Minnesota and Iowa, according to a 2002 study by Dr. Robert Schwarz and Dr. Thomas Schmidlin.

This highest concentration of blizzards was found in North Dakota, South Dakota and parts of western Minnesota, where an average of one to two blizzard occurs each year, based on data from 1959-2000.

The 8 blizzards this season is noteworthy even for "Blizzard Alley" and is another reason why this winter ranked as extreme on the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index in Fargo and Grand Forks.

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