Enjoy the warmth Thursday because temperatures in the lakes area are about to be plunged into cold and ice.
“The cold air is coming,” said Amanda Graning, National Weather Service meterologist in Duluth. “We have a pretty big change coming up.”
Above normal temperatures created an icycle melting early January. But that’s about to change. Thursday’s mild high — expected to top out near 36 degrees — is combining with approaching precipitation. The recent January thaw may have a less than appealing side effect in rain that will turn to ice.
“We are going to be hovering around the freezing mark Thursday night,” Graning said. “Friday night late and into Saturday is when we are going to see the big cold push.”
Sunny skies and a southern breeze Thursday should give way to a slight chance of rain after 3 p.m. Freezing rain is likely before midnight followed by rain and then a mix of freezing rain for light ice acculuation. The chance of precipitation is 70 percent.
Wadena and Todd counties were in a winter storm watch Wednesday as the weather approaches from the west. The weather service expected to put out more advisories as the approaching weather takes shape. Temperatures range enough across the storm front with warm air to the east, so Wisconsin has the chance for summer like thunderstorms while sleet and snow falls in Minnesota. More rain or freezing rain is anticipated before noon Friday with a high of 34 degrees and again before midnight. Chance of rain or freezing rain is 40 percent.
Friday night is the first time the forecast calls for likely precipitation that normally coincides with January — snow. Both the likelihood of precipitation, up 60 percent, and winds, with gusts up to 25 mph, increase Friday.
There is a potential for a heavy band of snow in what the weather service is describing as a significant winter storm, but the forecast model expects the larger accumulations to fall from Bemidji northward.
“If it wobbles just a little bit, things can change quickly,” Graning said of the storm.
Snow may continue Saturday, at least there is a 30 percent chance. And the high for the day may not climb past 14 degrees. But that could feel like a heat wave by next week.
The cold air is expected to come in waves. One model called for blowing snow and bitterly cold wind chills with temperatures well below zero creating harzardous driving conditions and much colder air for the weekend.
“There is some really cold air that comes over us Saturday,” Graning said.
Some of the bitter cold may be moderating for the overnight lows. Graning said much could depend on whether skies are clear or if there is a cloud cover, which can be the difference of 20 degrees.
“So overnight lows can fluctuate a lot,” she said. “Thursday will be nice and warm and it will stay round freezing overnight.”
The rain and drizzle on Friday will be followed by the cold front and more dicey freezing rain and snow. Brainerd is on the southern edge of the anticipated snowfall and may see light snow of an inch, depending on the storm’s ultimate route.
Graning said ice accumulation will depend on how warm it is Thursday, but a light glazing may in the Brainerd area with more ice to the west and north.
Saturday night temperatures are expected to drop to 6 degrees below zero. It won’t rebound much on Sunday with an anticipated high of 9 degrees, about 30 degrees colder than the warmest day this week.
The temperatures have dropped below zero degrees nine times this winter. The coldest was 18 degrees below zero on Jan. 2. But compare that to the record cold snaps and it looks pretty balmy. The coldest temperature in Brainerd since records began in 1899 was recorded Feb. 2, 1996 at 54 degees below zero during a winter of multiple record setting cold temperatures.
The extended forecast is without rain or snow, calling for sunny days and high temps below 16 degrees from Sunday until Tuesday night, when a slight chance of snow returns.
“We’re kind of back to close to normal range,” Graning said of January temperatures.
The normal high for this time of year is 20 degrees with a normal low a few degrees below zero. The record high for this date was set in 2012 at 48 degrees.
But the extended forecast means streets and sidewalks could be challenging as the ice that does form in the next few days won’t be melting away, at least not without help.
This week provided a warm opportunity to take down holiday decorations and Christmas lights. Now winter is returning. On the bright side, January is already a third gone and the coldest part of winter is drawing to a close.
Graning said: “We got our January thaw in there, but now it’s back to reality.”