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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., Published January 07 2011

Air mass may plunge area into deep freeze

GRAND FORKS – This is potentially bad news.

We have to report it. It’s our job.

We’re talking about winter … likely the coldest stretch of this already hard winter … bitter, unmerciful cold, maybe not record-setting but time-stopping, car-deadening, why-in-blazes-are-we-here cold.

It was Paul Huttner, reporting for usually stolid, restrained Minnesota Public Radio, who sounded the alarm Wednesday.

“The medium range forecast maps are pretty consistent the past few runs that a huge chunk of bitterly cold sub-zero arctic air will migrate south from the Arctic Circle in about 10 days,” he wrote on MPR’s website. “This ‘Siberian Express’ weather pattern may deliver bitter temperatures as cold as -20 in the metro, and -40 up north.”

Up north means us.

“This may be the coldest arctic outbreak in two years,” Huttner says. “The last time it was that cold was in January of 2009 when temperatures plunged to -22 in the metro and -42 in International Falls,” he wrote.

Out of Siberia

Dan Riddle, a weather forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, said it’s a bit early to pin down temperatures, but he confirmed that an especially cold stretch is in the cards.

One private national weather forecasting company has been suggesting “the coldest weather nationwide in a quarter century” for later this month, he said. “But that may be harping on things a bit much.”

In the 10- to 20-day period ahead, “there has been a pretty good signal for some pretty cold air that’s been over part of Siberia for most of September to cross over the North Pole,” Riddle said, “and for a piece of it to drop into western and central Canada and the northern plains as we get towards the latter half of January.”

Just how cold it could get “is really hard to tell at this point,” he said. “A lot depends on sky cover.”

Maybe a rough estimate of what we’re facing?

“I’m not seeing anything that would indicate record-breaking cold,” Riddle said. “It certainly will be the coldest part of winter, and a persistent cold. But I don’t see anything quite that extreme, to 35 or 40 below. We could get into some minus 20s, and even minus 30 is possible.”

Riddle, told he sounded almost eager, said his fascination with cold weather began when he was a boy growing up in western Kentucky.

“Three inches of snow was five days off school,” he said.

“I don’t mind the cold,” he said. “I like it. But I’m kind of unusual around here. It’s why I moved up north,” arriving in 1998.

“I don’t like summer,” he said. “I don’t like anything over 75 degrees. I’d rather see it at minus 10.”

Chuck Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald