April 2, 2020

April Starts With Thundersnow And A Frigid Chill On The Northern Plains

The northern Plains is still clinging to winter as a push of Arctic air descends over the region and a round of snow to close out the first week of April. Periods of snow will bring up to half a foot of accumulation to parts of North Dakota and Minnesota through Friday before the skies clear out in time for the weekend. Parts of South Dakota experienced a full-fledged wintry thunderstorm on Thursday afternoon, complete with hundreds of lightning strikes mixed in with snow, sleet, and freezing rain.

A cold front barreling across the Plains on Thursday made itself known in a hurry. There's a 30-40°F difference between temperatures across the boundary; shorts weather earlier today turned into winter-coat-fireplace-hot-cocoa-stay-in-bed weather in just a couple of minutes once the front rolled overhead. Temperatures quickly fell into the teens across the Dakotas on Thursday, and the chill will continue toward the Upper Midwest over the next day or so.


Thursday afternoon's forecast from the National Weather Service shows a decent blanket of snow covering most of the Dakotas and northern Minnesota by Friday night. The heaviest totals are likely along the Red River between Fargo and southern Saskatchewan. Parts of northwestern Minnesota could see up to half a foot of snow by the end of the storm.

Lightning strikes across South Dakota on Thursday afternoon. | Source: LightningMaps.org

It's not uncommon to see accumulating snow this far north at the beginning of April; Fargo averages about 3 inches of snow in a typical April. But it is uncommon to see such an intense bout of thundersnow/thundersleet/thunderfreezingrain (hey, we're working with limited terms here) as folks in central and eastern South Dakota experienced on Thursday afternoon. An intense line of convection moved across the state around lunchtime on Thursday and produced a heavy wintry mix with hundreds of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes embedded within. The map above shows the history of lightning strikes as the wintry squall moved through the region.


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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I ran Gawker's The Vane for two years and I've contributed to Mental Floss, Forbes, Popular Science, and the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. I also teamed up with Outdoor Life to write a book called The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, which came out in October 2015.

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