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Winter Storm Seneca: Snow, High Wind Reports

By Jon Erdman
Published: February 22, 2014
Winter Storm Seneca Radar History

Radar loop with lightning data (small white/gray lightning symbols) of Winter Storm Seneca from 9 a.m. CT Feb. 20 through 12 a.m. CT Feb. 21, 2014.

Winter Storm Seneca was the second named storm of the week to produce snow accompanied by lightning and followed closely on the heels of Winter Storm Rex

(MORE: Seneca State-by-State Impacts)

Seneca kicked into gear on the morning of Feb. 20, as a relatively quick burst of snow sweeping through parts of Nebraska and northern Kansas. While snow amounts in the Cornhusker State were light, some lightning accompanied the 1-2 inches of snow in the Omaha metro.

As this was happening, an east-west band of thundersnow pushed northward into southern Lower Michigan, including the Detroit metro area and nearby Ann Arbor, Mich., dropping a quick inch or two across the snow-weary area.

Heavier snow then began to swing into Iowa and southern Minnesota by midday Thursday.

Before that, let's consider what transpired in Des Moines, Ia. In short, everything but the kitchen sink occurred in roughly a two-hour period centered around midday. Below is a recap of the observations at Des Moines International Airport (all times CST):

  • 10:58 a.m.: Thunderstorm with small hail up to one-half inch diameter. The hail would continue on-and-off for 13 minutes.
  • 11:54 a.m.: Snow, and sleet mixing in with rain 
  • 12:27 p.m.: Snow and sleet, accompanied by in-cloud lightning
  • 12:51 p.m.: Snow, accompanied by both in-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning

Forecasters at both the Johnston, Iowa, National Weather Service office and in The Weather Channel's Global Forecast Center came up with a coherent forecast of that chain of events. A screen capture of the NWS forecast for Des Moines is shown in the tweet below, with a funny artistic touch by The Weather Channel social meteorologist Tim Ballisty.

But the intensity of the thundersnow was no laughing matter as it spread from Iowa into Minnesota, western and northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan through the evening.

Whiteout conditions prompted authorities to advise against travel in parts of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. A stretch of Interstate 35 was shut down from Owatonna, Minn. to the Iowa border because of numerous accidents and stranded vehicles.

In the heart of the whiteout was meteorologist Mike Seidel (Twitter | Facebook) of The Weather Channel. Reporting from Ashland, Wis., Seidel and his photographer were crushed by high winds and heavy snow Thursday night and Friday morning.

To see the difficulty of doing live coverage in the field in such conditions, check out this YouTube video Mike shot Thursday night

Winter Storm Seneca forced the National Park Service to shut down access to the nearby Apostle Island ice caves, rendered accessible by deep ice cover in Lake Superior.

The heaviest snow totals fell in a swath from the St. Croix River valley to northeast Minnesota, northwest Wisconsin and the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, with several locations chalking up more than a foot of snow.

Several locations were buffeted by wind gusts over 60 mph, some without picking up a flake of snow, including both St. Louis and Springfield, Mo. 

Below is a summary of snow totals, by state, from Winter Storm Seneca, including the peak total from each state, and totals in some larger cities.

Winter Storm Seneca snow totals

Winter Storm Seneca snowfall totals from Feb. 20-22, 2014.

Nebraska

  • Friend: 2.1"
  • Omaha: 1.3"

Iowa

  • Britt: 10.5"
  • Mason City: 7.1"
  • Des Moines: 1.7"

Minnesota

  • Alborn: 18"
  • Duluth (west side): 16"
  • Mpls./St. Paul Int'l Airport: 9.9"
  • International Falls: 9.4"
  • Rochester: 8.8" (also, wind gusts to 52 mph)

Wisconsin

  • Gile: 22"
  • Superior: 18"
  • Ashland: 13"
  • Eau Claire: 7.8"

Michigan

  • Ironwood: 14.1"
  • Marquette: 5.6"
  • Detroit: 1.2"
  • Houghton County: Plows pulled off roads, severe drifting reported with wind gusts over 40 mph continuing much of Friday into Saturday.

MORE: Winter Storm Seneca Photos

Runners run along the lake shore in Chicago, Friday, Fen. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)


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