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Rare May snowstorm bringing heavy snows from Colorado to Wisconsin

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 2:42 PM GMT on May 01, 2013

"Not the typical May forecast." That's the lead-in for today's National Weather Service forecast discussion for Minneapolis, where Winter Storm Achilles is expected to bring 6 - 9" of snow by Thursday morning. Snowfall rates as high as 1 - 3" per hour may occur in snow bands in East Central Minnesota this afternoon, and an 8 - 10" swath of snowfall is expected from South Central Minnesota into East Central Minnesota and West Central Wisconsin. With ratios of snow to liquid water an exceptional 5:1 or even 4:1 (normal is 10:1), the wet, heavy snow will be capable of downing power lines and tree limbs. However, the ground is warm, and accumulation on roads will be less of a problem than for the usual storm of this magnitude. The storm has already brought 7.3" of snow to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and 12 - 14" to locations 10 - 15 miles to the WNW of Cheyenne. Cheyenne's greatest May snowstorm on record was 18.3" on May 5 - 6, 1978. Denver, Colorado is expected to get 3 - 6" of snow from the storm; Boulder, Colorado has already received 8" of snow, Fort Collings got up to 9", and up to 28" has fallen in the Northern Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Figure 1. Snow plasters trees in Fort Collins, Colorado, on May 1, 2013. Up to 9" of snow has fallen on Fort Collins from the storm. Image credit: wunderphotographer pkkeya.

A historic May snowstorm for some locations
According to the Minnesota Climatology Working Group, the greatest May snowstorm in Minneapolis is 3" on May 20, 1892, so today's winter storm has the potential to be the greatest May snowstorm in city history.

The 1.5" of snow that fell on Sioux Falls, South Dakota this morning was that city's first May snowfall since 1976, the first May snowfall of greater than one inch since 1944, and the 3rd highest May snowfall on record.

On Thursday, after the cold front from Achilles passes through Topeka, Kansas, up to one inch of snow is forecast to fall. May 3, 1907 was the only measurable snowfall at Topeka on record (3.2") during the month of May!

Figure 2. Snow on a Deserted Street in Dawson, Minnesota in Lac Qui Parle County on May 20, 1892. The storm brought Minneapolis its greatest snowfall on record, 3.0". Image courtesy the Minnesota Historical Society.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather Achilles

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.