While returning from rural Polk County to pick up a weather balloon launched in Grand Forks, associate professor Aaron Kennedy and two students found themselves in a pickle.

Blizzard DeAnna was hitting the area hard and fast and Kennedy found himself halfway in a ditch on a road off of U.S. Highway 2.

“Our wives weren’t too happy with us,” Kennedy laughed, retelling the story Thursday from his office at UND’s Clifford Hall.

The weather balloon, which is just one aspect of a larger blizzard study being conducted at UND, had been launched from Grand Forks Tuesday night before the blizzard hit. Kennedy was able to track the balloon to rural Fisher. Worried the pending blizzard could cause damage to the technology used to collect data about the storm, Kennedy decided to pack up the winter weather gear and hit the road over to Fisher.

Once they arrived, Kennedy and his students strapped on snowshoes and walked out to the middle of a field to pick up the weather balloon, making it back to the car a short time later.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

As they were driving back, the blizzard hit quickly.

Kennedy ended up going halfway into a ditch, where he and his students stayed idled for eight hours until a tow truck showed up.

“It went from normal day driving in the country to just whiteout,” he said. “It was insane.”

Another aspect of the study involves utilizing the Center for Severe Weather Research’s Doppler on Wheels, which is on loan to the university from the Boulder, Colo.-based organization. The DOW arrived on campus on Jan. 20, just a couple days after Blizzard Carl hit the area and was set to go back to Colorado on Monday, but the research center agreed to allow UND keep the DOW for an extra couple days.

“Otherwise, we would have had a blizzard two days before and two days after the official deployment period, which I thought was pretty ironic,” Kennedy said. “We’re very thankful for them staying.”

The Doppler on Wheels was stationed near Thompson, N.D., when the latest blizzard rolled through. But that, too, had some issues.

Kennedy said the truck was operating from 10 p.m. Tuesday until 8 a.m. Wednesday, when the hydraulics went out. This prevented the other researchers from getting the 30-foot tower attached to the DOW from coming down.

Though, it didn’t go exactly as planned, the group of UND researchers will be using data gathered from the blizzard to gain insights and details of snowstorms.

UND’s Atmospheric Sciences Department is in the process of conducting a National Science Foundation-funded educational weather field campaign that studies falling and blowing snow. The study seeks to better understand blizzards and how snowfall is measured during them.

There’s a lot happening during a blizzard, from falling snow to blowing snow, Kennedy told the Herald in January. Having a better understanding of what is going on during a blizzard can help create more accurate weather models, he said. And that could mean more accurate weather forecasts for the public.

When snow crystals hit the ground and then go back into the air -- which is what happens in blowing snow events -- the ice crystals shatter into smaller pieces. However, that information isn’t in any of the forecasting models, which means it can be hard to predict just how much snow will accumulate.

Kennedy said Thursday that data collected during this week’s blizzard will be key for their research going forward. As of Thursday morning, the data was already being downloaded and analysis will now begin.

“It was basically a home run case,” Kennedy said. “This is exactly what we were looking for.”