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Erik Burgess, Published March 18 2013

Recent blizzard leaves region looking nothing like it did last March

FARGO - If given the choice, Brad Binford would trade in his snowplow and puffy purple jacket for a 9-iron and T-shirt that simply reads: I’d rather be golfing.

But instead of getting some green time on Monday, Binford was stuck in a snow trap, digging out of his south Fargo home after a weekend blizzard dumped four inches on the metro area and winds whipped up three-foot drifts in spots.

It’s a far cry from last March, the warmest on record for Fargo-Moorhead, when Binford bought – and actually used – a golf cart.

“I was king of the world,” he recalled Monday as he worked to clear his neighbor’s sidewalk. “I’m looking forward to getting out there, but it’s going to be a while. A little later start this year.”

Binford isn’t alone.

Across the F-M area, as school and business closures piled up like snow shoveled onto the berm, residents found themselves blowing out instead of basking in sun.

It was snowy and windy enough to shut down many area roads. Interstate 94 and Highway 10 heading east from Moorhead, for instance, were closed until 5 p.m. In North Dakota, a no-travel advisory was in place all day for areas near Fargo, and the state’s snow plows were going to give up on the wind-swept highways at 7 p.m.

So while the first day of spring is technically on Wednesday, it felt more distant than that Monday.

Terry Hinnenkamp was on vacation Monday morning, but looking at him, one could hardly tell. The Y94 morning show personality, who goes by “Rat” on air, was out attempting to blow snow from his sidewalk. The high winds were not his friend, and much of it came flying back at him, completely frosting over his medium-length beard.

“I feel like I look like a yeti,” Hinnenkamp said, pulling icicles from his face.

What would he rather be doing?

“Oh god, anything. Absolutely anything,” he said.

Despite the pain of shoveling, many of those stuck in the snow Monday agreed the weather was pretty normal fare for Fargo in March. But is it actually unusual for the area this time of year?

“You bet,” says Jim Kaiser, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks.

Normal temperature highs here for this month are around 35 degrees, he said, but temperatures in Fargo only managed to hit about 16 degrees Monday afternoon.

Last year, it was unusual in a far more pleasant way. On March 18 it was 78 degrees in Fargo-Moorhead. The snow had all melted away a week prior. The F-M area had four days in a row last March with temperatures of 75 degrees or greater. Ten of 12 consecutive days that month were above 60 degrees.

It was like that for much of the country, Kaiser said. The eastern two-thirds of the United States had record March temperatures last year.

Mary Maynard fondly recalls taking motorcycle rides with her husband last March. On Monday, the Harwood Elementary music teacher was instead using her snow day to shovel out of her south Fargo home.

“Spring has got to be coming soon. It just has to,” she said, her cheeks pink from the biting wind. “I want to see my tulips come up.”

It’s a tale of two upper-air patterns, Kaiser said, which drive weather systems and air masses.

Last year around this time, there were more warm air patterns coming up from the south, allowing temps to rise, snow to melt and tulips to grow. This year, there are more cold air masses from the northwest and west, which keep the snow around longer. Snow reflects sun, causing temperatures to drop.

“In the wake of each storm system, we’re getting another shot of cold air,” Kaiser said of weather patterns this year. “We haven’t seen anything that resembles last March’s upper air pattern. We’ve seen almost the opposite this year.”

The snowfall had mostly ended in the F-M area by noon Monday, but blowing winds continued to push the powder around.

Monday’s storm had winds gusting up to 48 mph in Gwinner, N.D., and near Tenney, Minn. Valley City had a 46 mph gust. Fargo’s strongest wind was clocked at 45 mph at around 10 a.m. Monday.

With high winds whipping snow around, it’s “pretty impossible” to accurately measure how much snow has actually fallen, Kaiser said.

Early Monday, there were an estimated 8.5 inches in Park Rapids, Minn., 6.5 inches in Wadena, Minn., 4 inches in Valley City, N.D., and 2 inches in Breckinridge, Minn.

West Fargo measured 3 inches by early Monday, and there were 2.7 inches measured in Hawley, Minn.

The rest of the week isn’t shaping up to be much better, with highs in the teens and lows in the minus-10-degree range.

“Think January,” Kaiser said.

Hinnenkamp hopes the misery will end soon.

“All the neighbors, we’ve been talking,” he said. “Every time we snow blow or shovel, it’s like ‘Well, this will be the last time.’ Then we’re right back at it. It just keeps burying us even more.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518