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Cold, continued: La Nina could make for frigid winter as temps to return to below zero

UND student Levi Hoffman, of Little Falls, Minn., scrapes ice from his rear windshield Tuesday on the university campus. A recent cold snap sent temperatures in Grand Forks down to negative 25 degrees a few days earlier. (Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald)1 / 3
HB Sound and Light employees Rod Shroyer, left, and James Whitney, right, finished stringing lights Tuesday over the Grand Forks Freezeway project. Shroyer said the two were taking advantage of relatively warm temperatures. (Andrew Haffner/Grand Forks Herald) 2 / 3
Snow gathers on Buddy's snout as he and his owner, Mike Nordrum, go for a Tuesday afternoon walk along University Avenue in Grand Forks. (Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald)3 / 3

A blustery Tuesday brought overcast skies and scattered snowfall. But as far as temperatures go, the day was a break in the clouds.

But the relief could be short-lived.

Thermometers hit the low teens in the second day of the new year, breaking a cold snap that ended 2017 with local air temperatures plunging as far as 25 degrees below zero. Meteorologists say the recent cold, which hit a bone-chilling 45 degrees below zero Monday in southwest North Dakota, is due largely to a ridge of air sweeping from the north. The formation of La Nina, a global weather pattern caused by the transfer of warm air between the tropical Pacific Ocean and the atmosphere above, could also serve to make this winter even colder.

James Whitney and Rod Shroyer, both employees of HB Sound and Light, made use of the relative warmth Tuesday to finish stringing lights over the Freezeway ice-skating path, a pilot project now being completed on the Grand Forks Greenway.

"It was just too blessed cold the last couple days," Shroyer said as he prepared a string of lights in a heated work van. "Today was the warm day, so we figured we'd get it done."

He soon amended that.

"It's cold today, but I figure I'd rather be doing it when it's above zero than below," he said.

Carl Jones, a meteorologist with the Grand Forks office of the National Weather Service mostly attributed the recent streak of frigid weather to an atmospheric ridge pulling cold air south and pushing warmer currents up toward Alaska.

The Red River Valley hasn't been out alone in the cold, which has affected much of the country, but Jones said the Upper Midwest has experienced some of the harshest temperatures.

"We certainly were up there with some of the coldest, and Minnesota and North Dakota seem to have the brunt of this previous cold snap," Jones said. He added that temperatures in northern portions of Minnesota around International Falls recently got as cold as negative 30 degrees.

While more typical weather events have made themselves at home this winter, the U.S. is also likely to experience the effects of La Nina—a correspondent to El Nino—for the second year in a row. Unlike the male-named pattern, La Nina typically brings colder temperatures and greater precipitation to the Midwest.

Michelle L'Heureux is a meteorologist based in Maryland with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is head of the office's El Nino-Southern Oscillation observation team. She said her group is "very confident" in saying that La Nina will persist through the winter months and expected the oscillation to last through early to mid-spring.

However, the office's projections don't necessarily mean the pattern will have a sure effect on the northern rim of the U.S.

"La Nina is this thing in the tropical Pacific, so just because we know what's going to happen down there does not mean there is (the same) chance that we'll see it everywhere," L'Heureux said. She explained the probability of below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation for North Dakota are maybe as high as 50 percent and 40 percent, respectively—maybe not a strong relationship for precipitation, she said, but possibly linked to a snowy winter.

The next few days in Grand Forks could mark a return to deep winter conditions. Jones said the brief warmup Tuesday was expected to fall back to the negative teens overnight before hitting an expected high on Wednesday of negative single digits, possibly rising as high as zero degrees. Jones said Thursday morning is likely to return to the negative teens, a level of cold that might hold into Friday.

"We don't really start to see a noticeable warmup until this weekend, when we could get highs up to the 20s," he said, "and that's ahead of a system that is expected to kind of impact the area for this weekend."

Cold globe

Winter has settled in across the northern hemisphere. Here’s how the Wednesday forecast for Grand Forks stacks up to other places in the frozen north.

  • Grand Forks has a predicted high of negative 4 degrees.
  • Winnipeg has a predicted high of negative 6 degrees.
  • Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the U.S., has a predicted high of 5 degrees.
  • Murmansk, Russia, the world’s largest city above the Arctic Circle, has a predicted high of 15 degrees
  • Hell, Norway, has a predicted high of 25 degrees.

Source: The Weather Channel

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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