Seeing double: Storm packs surprise wallop for Fargo-Moorhead area
Thomas Warnell took a break from shoveling Monday to scoop up a pile of freshly fallen snow into his glove. Holding it about 6 inches from his mouth, he forced out a puff of air that exploded the snow into a white cloud.
"Can you imagine what a 40 mph wind is going to do to us?" he said.
He may not have to wait long to find out.
As a narrow band of snow dumped more than a foot of fluff Monday on parts of southeast North Dakota and west-central Minnesota, the National Weather Service predicted a Wednesday-Thursday storm could bring another 4 to 6 inches of snow and winds up to 25 mph, whipping up harsh conditions for Thanksgiving travelers.
A winter storm watch was in effect from Wednesday morning through Thanksgiving afternoon for all of eastern North Dakota and much of northwest and west-central Minnesota.
The Fargo-Moorhead area was "bull's-eyed" by Monday's storm, a narrow band of snow that stretched southwest to northeast from Aberdeen, S.D., to Bemidji, Minn., weather service meteorologist Jim Kaiser said.
The long storm chugged over the F-M area, depositing up to an inch of snow per hour. WDAY chief Meteorologist John Wheeler said Monday night 12.6 inches of snow fell in the Fargo-Moorhead area - more than double the 4 to 5 inches predicted Sunday.
The snowfall set a record, breaking the mark of 6.1 inches of snow that fell in Fargo on Nov. 22, 1985.
To demonstrate how selective the storm was, Kaiser said Hector International Airport in north Fargo reported at about 6 a.m. that it hadn't started snowing yet, but a south Fargo radio station already had 3 inches on the ground.
"That's how narrow the band is, and trying to pinpoint where that's going to occur before it sets up is virtually impossible," he said.
The dry, powdery quality of the snow caused it to stack up quickly.
"That 8 inches, if the temperatures were 15 degrees warmer, would be maybe 1½ to 2 inches," Kaiser said. "So, that's making things a little more difficult."
Warnell and fellow day laborer Darrell Shamp saw that difficulty as an opportunity to turn the white stuff into green, offering to shovel driveways and sidewalks for cash.
Among their customers was Erica Waters, who paid the duo to clear her walks and a spot for her baby blue Lincoln Towncar in her driveway off Fargo's Ninth Avenue South.
Waters, who brushed snow off the car with a broom, said she expected snow, but "not this much."
"We were hoping it'd be more," Warnell joked. "It ain't done yet. We're not disappointed."
Snow-covered streets and highways slowed the morning commute, but no serious crashes were reported.
Fargo police responded to 18 traffic accidents between 5 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., Sgt. Mike Bernier said.
"This is just kind of typical for weather like this," he said.
Snowplows pushed the powder with ease, but operators had to stop to clear snow that came over the hood and blocked their view, said Ben Dow, Fargo Public Works director.
"If the wind was up ... this town would be shut down," he said.
With the heaviest snow tapering off Monday afternoon, Dow said he hoped to have all primary and secondary routes cleared by this morning's commute. Some residential streets and alleys may not be cleared right away in the morning, he said, adding crews have almost 1,700 lane miles to plow.
Several schools in Minnesota's Becker and Mahnomen counties closed early Monday afternoon, and White Earth Tribal and Community College in Mahnomen canceled afternoon and evening classes.
The heaviest snowfall had diminished by early Monday afternoon, but the region already was gearing up for another round.
With Monday's fluffy snow and the additional amounts forecast, "There's plenty of white stuff to blow around," Kaiser said.
Dow said city crews will be ready.
"We'll be fully staffed if we need to on Thursday," he said.
Fargo Cass Public Health heeded the forecast and announced that it had canceled a flu vaccination clinic Wednesday at West Fargo High School "due to inclement weather.
Warnell saw the forecast in a more positive light.
"We're going to be in business for a while," he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528