November 17, 1996: End of Blizzard 1 and the Start of the Long Winter

On November 17, 1996, the first of at least 10 blizzards that would hit some part of North Dakota during the winter of 1996-1997, would come to an end.  This first blizzard started on Friday, November 15, with conditions worsening during the day.  By the night blizzard conditions were developing and by Saturday into Saturday Night a full fledged blizzard was raging over much of North Dakota.  The heaviest snow from this first blizzard of that winter fell from across southeastern North Dakota from around Oakes to Fargo/Moorhead.

 

Snow Amounts from November 15-17, 1996 Blizzard.

Snow Amounts from November 15-17, 1996 Blizzard.

 

The storm was what is often referred to as a “hybrid” system.  Coming into the Pacific northwest, moving across the northern Rockies of the United States, then reforming in Colorado and moving up toward the northeast.  These “hybrid” systems have historically been the creators of many of the most prolific snow makers in North Dakota in the past 125 years.  I use the term hybrid in relation to these storms to have both the characteristics of an “Alberta Clipper” and a “Colorado Low (Panhandle Hooker)” storms.

The surface map on November 14 had two lows, one in Wyoming, the other in Alberta with both moving east.

November 14, 1996 Surface Map (12Z)

November 14, 1996 Surface Map (12Z)

On the first day the storm impacted North Dakota, the “Clipper Low” was weakening and in turn, an inverted trough (extended area of low pressure) was forming from the main low that at this time was reorganizing in Colorado.

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November 15, 1996, Surface Map (12Z)

 

On November 16, the day that blizzard conditions did develop, the low from Colorado was lifting to the northeast toward central Minnesota.

November 16, 1996 Surface Analysis (12Z)

November 16, 1996 Surface Analysis (12Z)

 

By the evening of November 16, 1996, the Colorado Low was in southern Minnesota with a strong wind on the back side in eastern North and South Dakota and western Minnesota.

 

November 16, 1996 Surface Analysis (6:00 PM, 00Z November 17)

November 16, 1996 Surface Analysis (6:00 PM, 00Z November 17)

The center of low pressure quickly moved to the north east that by the morning of November 18, the storm was well to the northeast of North Dakota and Minnesota.  The wind had diminished and the digging out of the snow was continuing.

November 18, 1996 Surface Analysis (12 Z)  6:00 AM CST

November 18, 1996 Surface Analysis (12 Z) 6:00 AM CST

 

In the image presented above you will notice another area of low pressure extending from Washington to Oregon.  This progressed easterly and although not a blizzard, produced another significant snow to North Dakota on November 20, 1996.

 

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November 20, 1996 Snow Totals

The November 20, 1996 storm produced another 6 to 10 inches of snow in many locations across North Dakota (0.0 are missing data).  This in combination with yet another system that impacted the state later in the month brought November 1996 snow totals to the 15 -30 inch range for the month.

 

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November 1996 Snow Totals

 

More importantly, the snow was not a fluffy light snow, but it contained a significant amount of water content with 1.5 to 2.5 inches of liquid equivalency in the snow.  As a reference, much of North Dakota only averages 1.5 to 2.5 inches of liquid for the entire winter (December through February).  These first events of that winter lead the way, after a wet early autumn, to the moisture that melted in the spring of 1997 that created the worst flooding since 1897 to the state, with the Red River Valley and especially Grand Forks recording much devastation from what was the long winter of 1996-1997.

 

 

Liquid Equivalency Moisture for November 1996

Liquid Equivalency Moisture for November 1996

 

Daryl Ritchison