Greg Gust of the National Weather Service is warning of a cold and snowy winter comparable to last year's. Eric Hylden / Forum Communications Co.
Panel says wild weather worsening
FARGO - After an unseasonably mild October, Gregory Gust of the National Weather Service wishes he could predict the meteorological good times were going to keep on rolling.
"I would like to say that this is going to last forever and ever, but I can't," he said.
Instead, with the first snow of the season possible this weekend, Gust warned a cold, snowy winter, comparable to last year's blizzard-laden slog, is looming just around the bend.
Gust's remarks came at a media conference Tuesday during what Gov. Jack Dalrymple has proclaimed Severe Winter Weather Awareness Week. Gust joined transportation and law enforcement officials to discuss the outlook for the coming winter and the importance of staying safe.
Much like last year, North Dakota and Minnesota face higher-than-average risk of extreme cold and snow. In 2010, that meant near-record snowfall of 88.5 inches in Fargo-Moorhead, punctuated by a handful of bitter snowstorms - two of which struck back-to-back on Dec. 30 and 31.
More of the same is possible this year, Gust said.
"Those factors that are in play this winter are nearly identical to the factors that were in play last winter," he said. The record snowfall of the winter of 1996-97 - "the snowy winter from Hades," as he called it - is possible.
This year, the National Weather Service will issue extreme cold warnings when the "apparent temperature" - the equivalent of the heat index, which factors in temperature, humidity, and wind speed - drops into the 30- to 35-below-zero range.
Last year, those conditions struck twice in north-central Minnesota but did not materialize here, Gust said. The warnings, which debuted last year, will also replace wind chill warnings.
"In a typical winter, we'd only see that once or twice," he said.
Brent Muscha, operations engineer for the North Dakota Department of Transportation, also spoke Tuesday about travel safety measures during winter weather.
He encouraged drivers to check road conditions before embarking. During March blizzards this year, he said, the department's road conditions website and hotline drew 1.2 million hits and 150,000 phone calls - a sign people are doing so. This season, the department has added a new snow and ice control information website.
Muscha also urged motorists to avoid cruise control in slippery conditions and to stay back from snowplows.
Aaron Hummel, a lieutenant with the state Highway Patrol, said many winter storms can be navigated if drivers are careful and responsible. His advice: slow down, install snow tires, keep winter survival gear in the vehicle and plan ahead.
He said winter road safety is critical because a few bad decisions can trigger major accidents like the crash that left about 100 vehicles stranded on Interstate 94 just west of Fargo on Dec. 30 last year. It "basically boiled down to irresponsible driving behaviors of a couple parties," he said.