Brrrrrrrr: Brutal cold snap grips region

Schools in two states
cancel classes Monday
REGION – Although relief is in sight, today (Wednesday) marks the fifth consecutive and ninth out of the last 10 days that temperatures have not gotten above zero.
In that stretch there have been several overnight dips to near 30 degrees below with windy conditions prompting windchill advisories and warnings to go with it.
Because of a blizzard warning last Friday evening and cold temperatures forecast for the following day, schools in northeast North Dakota cancelled all sporting events and extracurricular activities for Friday and Saturday.
Last Friday, with forecasts predicting the dangerous conditions for the beginning of the next school week, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton closed schools statewide there for Monday.
With low temperatures predicted in excess of 30 degrees below zero and matching extreme windchill indexes, a majority of schools in North Dakota followed suit and cancelled classes on Monday as well.
“My biggest concern was the possibility of a bus stalling or something like that and having kids sitting out there in the cold,” Park River Area Superintendent Kirk Ham said.
Although it didn’t get quite as cold as predicted Monday morning, Ham said it was better to err on the side of caution.
“If you’re not sure whether or not to call off school, you’ve probably answered your own question,” he said. “The weather is just too unpredictable sometimes. Just after Christmas we had that day when there was just supposed to be some blowing snow and it turned into a blizzard. We had already sent a bus out and they ended up spending the night in Fargo, so you just never know.”
Grafton observed a low of 26 below zero early Monday morning with winds between 10-15 miles-per-hour, but the temperature rose to 10 below zero as the day wore on.
Both Ham and Grafton Superintendent Jack Maus said their elementary students have not been allowed outside for recess during the cold snap.
“Because we have plenty of gym space, we usually don’t let kids outside when it’s below zero,” Maus said.
Most schools in the area including Grafton and Park River also have policies mandating that students wear proper winter clothing including boots, hats, gloves and jackets when traveling on buses to and from school as well as to extracurricular activities.
“We sent a reminder e-mail to all parents to dress their kids appropriately,” Ham said. “We also reminded bus parents that if their kids show up for the bus and don’t have the proper clothing, they weren’t getting on the bus.”
Schools aren’t the only ones feeling the cold weather. According to Richie Schumacher of Schumacher and Sons in Grafton, they’ve been busy with calls of vehicles not starting because of the extreme cold.
“We’ve been putting a lot of new batteries in,” he said. “In addition to that we’ve seen a lot of flat tires. It’s common in the cold weather to see tires lose pressure and when it does get real cold, they’ll lose their seal once in a while.”
Schumacher said it would be fair to say that the number of calls they’ve received has at least doubled since the recent cold snap has set in.
Why has it been so cold?
WDAZ Storm Tracker meteorologist Daryl Ritchison said the culprit for all of our cold weather since the beginning of December has been the positioning of what’s commonly called the Jet Stream.
“The upper weather wind flow (jet stream) goes up toward Alaska, then flows down through the northern plains in a ‘U’ shape and then it curves back toward the East Coast,” he said. “We generally refer to that ‘U’ shape as a trough, and North Dakota has been right at the tip of that trough for quite sometime.”
The position of the trough means that dry and very cold Arctic air, which has been dubbed the “Polar Vortex” has been allowed to sweep south, keeping temperatures well below normal most of the time since December.
According to statistics from the National Weather Service (NWS) the Grand Forks station recorded the fifth coldest December temperatures on record.
Along with this weather pattern has come a series of weak weather disturbances which included last Friday’s brief blizzard.
“And each disturbance seems to have reinforced our cold weather pattern,” Ritchison said.
In the stretch between Dec. 30 and Jan. 6, the overnight low has exceeded 20 below zero six times with the coldest overnight temperature recorded at 28 below zero on Jan. 2. The overnight low recorded in Grafton on Sunday and Monday was 26 below zero.
Ritchison said although it seems extreme, the 20’s and 30’s below zero aren’t really that uncommon for January in our part of the country.
“January 2011 was the fourth coldest on record,” he said. “Two years ago we had the warmest winter on record and last year was near average and we did see some morning lows in the twenties below zero. But, historically, these temperatures aren’t unusual for January.”
Ritchison said the it does appear as though we will be getting a break from the cold temperatures soon.
“It does appear, at least temporarily the jet stream is going to flatten out a little bit and we’ll get more of a flow off of the Pacific Ocean which is a warm flow this time of year,” he said.
Grafton and Walsh County should see the teens by Thursday, mid-20’s by Friday and temperatures near 32 degrees on Saturday.

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