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Cali Owings, Published March 31 2014

VIDEO: Massive storm proves hard to predict

FARGO - Monday’s massive winter storm throughout northwest Minnesota and the eastern parts of the Dakotas proved tough to predict.

The National Weather Service initially forecasted 10 to 20 inches of snow throughout the day for the Fargo-Moorhead area starting around mid-morning.

Though local school districts canceled classes the night before, dropping temperatures and high winds didn’t bring blizzard conditions to the area until mid-afternoon.

By early evening, several area businesses had announced closures in response to the storm conditions rapidly deteriorating.

“Big storms are always hard to forecast,” said WDAY meteorologist John Wheeler. “There’s more power and more energy to them. Different people are going to see them different ways.’’

Weather service meteorologist Brad Hopkins said the heaviest band of snow shifted farther to the west, bringing more rain to the warmer areas like Fargo instead of snow.

In Sunday’s forecasts, Wheeler said he initially called for 3 to 6 inches of snow in Fargo starting mid-afternoon Monday. He said it would probably be closer to 2 to 4 inches here.

The makings of this storm system originated off the coast of California and brought heavy rainstorms to California late last week, Wheeler said. It rapidly developed as it crossed the Rocky Mountains, bringing an intense low-pressure system to the Plains.

By the time the storm has run its course, northwest Minnesota, central North Dakota and eastern North Dakota and South Dakota will have seen snow, freezing rain, thunderstorms, and even tornadoes.

The storm closed highways, schools and public offices across the region.

The weather service in Grand Forks reported winds gusting over 50 mph along and west of the Red River Valley. The northern part of the valley was bracing for up to 20 inches of snow.

The storm system was bringing high winds to the Bemidji, Minn., area, where 3 to 5 inches of snow was forecast, according to the National Weather Service.

The blizzard warning for the region was to remain in effect until 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Amid the winter blast, a tornado was reported in west-central Minnesota.

The Yellow Medicine County Sheriff’s Office said the twister damaged at least three farm sites Monday afternoon southeast of St. Leo, which is about 175 miles southeast of Fargo. No injuries were reported.

The Sheriff’s Office said the tornado damaged machine sheds, grain bins, outbuildings and residences.

On Monday afternoon, the North Dakota Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol closed Interstate 94 from Fargo to Bismarck and Interstate 29 from Fargo to the Canadian border.

The closures were due to zero visibility and snow-covered roads, causing hazardous driving conditions.

“Conditions out here are about as bad as it can get,” said Lt. David Wolf of the Highway Patrol.

The Red Cross opened a shelter in Valley City to help aid motorists stranded due to the I-94 road closure.

In Fargo, even the West Acres mall – known as one of the last businesses to close in times of severe weather – closed up shop an hour and a half early.

Hopkins said many areas were suddenly hit by the full force of the storm, catching people off guard.

“Just because you look out the window and it’s clear, doesn’t mean it’s not coming,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599

Forum News Service contributed to this report