For those who live along the Great Lakes, when spring comes they are subject to what are called snow squalls – as the warmth of the sun runs into a cold air mass and creates thin bands of quickly-forming clouds that drop heavy amounts of snow in very isolated areas for short periods of time. It’s the opposite of lake-effect snow, where cold air aloft and warmer water combine to dump heavy amounts of snow.
They could be expected in Buffalo, New York along Lake Erie. But, in Buffalo, Minnesota?
It’s a rarity and something that even those experienced in dealing with winter weather haven’t seen. If it was the first time you saw snow squalls like we did over the last several days, you were not alone.
Wright County Highway Maintenance Superintendent Steve Meyer has been working on highways for most of his life and hasn’t experienced what he has in the last week.
“I started in 1985 with MnDOT and have been in this business since then and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Meyer said. “This is something you associate with places like Duluth where they get lake-effect snow where Lake Superior makes its own storms. In 35 years, I’ve never been around something like this. It was like a thundershower, just in a very small area that started and ended quickly.”
From a distance, it looked similar to fog. But, as it got closer, heavy bands of snow would reduce visibility to a few hundred feet and cause very slippery pavement conditions.
What astonished Meyer even more than going through the first squall over the weekend was the frequency with which they came. The sun would be shining and the snow would be falling over several days in short, dramatic bursts.
“What made it even stranger was how long it lasted,” Meyer said. “The snow never lasted very long, but they just kept coming. It started last weekend and we saw these come through Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and into Wednesday. I guess it wouldn’t have been as weird if happened once and went away, but to have them happen so many times and be so intense was something I’ve never experienced.”
The squalls were a combination nuisance and novelty for most drivers, but for Meyer’s work crew, it was a deal breaker. His highway maintenance staff had big plans for this week as part of their recurring annual duties. But, the squalls put an end to that in a hurry both Monday and Tuesday.
“The worst part for our crew was they were out doing crack sealing this week and you can’t do that when the pavement is wet,” Meyer said. “We lost time Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because we were in a spot where those squalls came through. It was frustrating because it would only snow for five or 10 minutes, you could see sunshine, but it was coming down heavily in that small impacted area.”
Meyer said he still isn’t sure what caused the mini-storms that came through in bunches as they did, but there was at least one piece of good news came from this wild weather anomaly.
“Fortunately, we didn’t have any reports of accidents as the result of it,” Meyer said. “It was warm enough that when the sun came back out, what was on the road surfaces melted pretty quickly. I just hope we don’t see something like that again.”