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Weather service: Blizzard Gigi pretty normal for a spring storm

Blizzard Gigi brought the Grand Forks area to a standstill Monday, with heavy snowfall, powerful winds and thunderstorms. To the south, freezing rain and a tornado warning preceded the storm as it roared through South Dakota, North Dakota and wes...

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Visability is reduced along Gateway Drive in Grand Forks Monday by blizzard Gigi hit the northern Red River Valley. JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD

Blizzard Gigi brought the Grand Forks area to a standstill Monday, with heavy snowfall, powerful winds and thunderstorms. To the south, freezing rain and a tornado warning preceded the storm as it roared through South Dakota, North Dakota and western Minnesota.

But, really, Gigi’s not all that unusual for a spring blizzard, according to Greg Gust, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks. Every year, a spring blizzard like it strikes somewhere in the tri-state region, just not in the Grand Forks area, which has had a handful of spring blizzards in the last 15 years.

“Some of our more dangerous blizzards are these late-March-into-April ones,” he said. People don’t really expect them and they often bring a lot of snow, he said.

As of 5 p.m. Monday, weather observers throughout the region had reported snowfall ranging from 6.5 inches in East Grand Forks, to 7 inches in Grafton, N.D., to 9 inches in Thief River Falls. Snow was still falling and forecasters had expected the storm to bring 10 to 20 inches in total in the northern Red River Valley.

There were reports of white-out conditions with thunderstorms in Mayville, N.D.


At the Grand Forks airport, the wind blew at more than 30 mph with gusts of more than 40 mph. For a time, the weather sensors there reported zero visibility, unusual for that location.

The Herald named the blizzard after Gigi Marvin, the two-time silver medalist with the U.S. women’s hockey team and a Warroad, Minn., native. The weather sensors in nearby Roseau, Minn., reported heavy snow and thunderstorms with winds of more than 20 mph.

Colorado storm

Blizzard Gigi is a type of storm that meteorologists call “Colorado Lows,” named after low-pressure systems coming out of the Colorado Rockies in the spring, according to Gust. They tend to hook up with moist air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico, forming lots of thick wet snow. They also tend to move slowly, allowing snow-bearing clouds to linger.

Blizzard Hannah, the 1997 blizzard that crippled the Red River Valley and was followed by the flood of the century in Grand Forks, was a Colorado Low. The storm cut power to more than 100,000 people and caused $30 million in damage to power lines and other infrastructure.

Winter storms in the Grand Forks region tend to be “Alberta Clippers,” fast-moving storms coming over the Canadian Rockies. They tend to be very cold so, if there is much snow, it is not as wet.

Delayed spring melt

It’s not yet clear how much snow has fallen or how much water it contains. Gust said weather service staff will try to get an estimate over the next few days.


If the snow is the equivalent of an inch of rain, he said, he does not expect the spring flooding outlook would change much. It currently calls for minor to moderate flooding in the Red River Valley and a foot to a foot-and-a-half rise in Devils Lake.

The situation could be aggravated if there were another bad storm and worrisome if there were two bad storms, he said.

The area has been relatively dry and much of the melting snow up to this point has been absorbed into the soil, he said, meaning streams and rivers should still be able to handle more water, though tributaries of the Red River would probably flood some.

One consequence of this late snowfall is the whiteness of the snow will reflect the sun’s heat and delay the spring melt, he said. It may take until the second week of April before melting resumes, he said.

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