MARSHALL - Talk about weather potpourri.
As parts of Minnesota had summer-like severe weather thrust upon them Sunday, other areas of the state, once the moisture found colder temperatures, got a taste of weather usually reserved for March.
The massive storm system that churned its way through the Midwest and spawned a season's worth of tornadoes in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and southern Iowa this past weekend also touched off a few tornadoes in southern Minnesota, including one north of Ghent, and was the cause of nearly 12 inches worth of new snow up north. Eleven inches of April snow fell in Chisholm and Orr overnight Sunday.
"This is something we sometimes see with spring storms - late-March, early-April storms," said Phil Schumacher, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Sioux Falls, S.D., office. "These storms are able to bring up this very warm, moist air to Iowa and Minnesota, and it's very unstable and favorable for tornadoes and thunderstorms."
Schumacher said Minnesota's significant temperature grading - the potential difference in temperatures throughout the state at any given time - means the precipitation that falls could come in many forms.
"With such a large temperature grading you can get thunderstorms in southern Minnesota and not that far away you can get a blizzard, much like what happened this weekend," he said. "Once you get north of that warm front you get into unseasonably cold air and northeasterly winds, and you still have all that moisture. Instead of fueling thunderstorms, it creates snow."
Sunday's tornadoes and funnel clouds in Minnesota didn't result in any damage or injuries. While Minnesota might have experienced the most extreme seasonal conditions, the brunt of the storm system fell far to the south with more than 70 confirmed tornadoes touching down, hail the size of softballs, and 97 mph wind gusts.
One of the interesting aspects of the weekend outbreak was, for the most part, those sitting in the bull's eye of the storm knew it was coming. The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., had warned more than 24 hours ahead of a possible "high-end, life-threatening event." And even though the prediction center said it can't predict all storms that far out that warning undoubtedly saved lives.
Schumacher said the bigger the system the more confident meteorologists are in predicting them. Since this latest system was so large the NWS was confident its ominous prediction would hold up.
"With a system like this there's much more information available to us that allows us to say, "Yes, we are going to have more severe weather," he said. "Not every system is that way. Weaker systems are much more different and it's tougher to say the severe weather will be in Worthington, or Marshall, or Redwood Falls. Prediction is getting better; it's not perfect but it is getting better."
Schumacher credits technology and the computers meteorologists work with today, as well as satellites that provide atmospheric information to forecasters.
"We certainly try to give people as much lead time as we can without crying wolf. The last you want to do is say there's going to be a big outbreak and nothing happens, then next time we say that people say, "Oh, they said that before.' It's always a balance trying to figure out how much information to give people so they're prepared without being wrong. Sometimes we can find that balance really well like this weekend."