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First snow, then cold for Christmas

Six-year-old Sloane Zelinske, who is just learning to skate, balances Monday on one skate at the Gregory Park skating rink in north Brainerd. Skaters will have to brave frigid temperatures to get out on the outdoor ice on Christmas Day. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Whoever asked for snow followed by bitter wind chills on Christmas Day must be on Santa's good list.

The wish is about to be granted just in time to potentially complicate travel plans and change the Christmas Day wardrobe.

A couple of rounds of snow are expected Wednesday afternoon and night. So far the Brainerd lakes area, along with much of the state, is expecting 1-2 inches of snow. The North Shore may receive the highest amounts with 3-4 inches of snow possible from south of Silver Bay to north of Grand Marais. Snow is expected to continue into Wisconsin. The lakes area could receive anywhere from 1-3 inches to 2-4 inches of snow. And shovelers may want to get out and tackle whatever snow falls early before the frigid air follows in its wake.

"The snow will diminish late Wednesday night into Thursday before redeveloping in the afternoon," the National Weather Service in Duluth reported.

The last week of the year is expected to be a stark contrast to Monday's mild mid-30s. After a string of overcast days—with gray skies meeting snow-covered ground punctuated by fog and mist or light snow—the sun is expected to make a brief return Tuesday, Dec. 19. Clouds return Wednesday along with a 70 percent chance of snow, mainly after noon and before midnight.

"A storm system will affect the Northland Wednesday through Friday bringing the chance for accumulating snow to portions of the Northland," the weather service reported. "At this time, locations south of the Iron Range in Minnesota and all of northwest Wisconsin, will see the most snow. Amounts are in question and will be adjusted as we get closer to the event.

"Much colder air will move over the region following the storm system this weekend, lasting into next week with sub-zero wind chills expected."

Last-minute shoppers may want to get those stocking stuffers before Saturday or plan to bundle up as the high is expected to top out at 6 degrees. The high on Christmas Eve may be near zero or perhaps rise to 1 degree before the temperature goes back the other way—dropping down to 12 below in the early hours of Christmas Day.

"It is definitely going to be the coldest air of the season," said Dean Packingham, senior meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Duluth. Packingham said the lakes area snowfall amounts may be 1-3 inches or 2-4 inches with this upcoming storm.

Packingham said he planned to fill up his gas tank and put his remote car starter to good use as the cold air takes up residence. Weather models varied on whether the cold snap would be short-lived or extend into the last week of the year.

Anemic sunshine and continued cold are forecast for Christmas Day with a high near 2 degrees. The cold air plunging into the center of the country is bringing colder than normal temperatures. Although anecdotal evidence will point to a common theme of cold temps right at Christmas. Normal highs for Brainerd start in the upper 20s in early December and cool to the low 20s by mid-January, the National Weather Service reported, adding normal lows start in the mid-teens above zero in early December and cool to near zero by mid January.

This cold—particularly the wind chill factor—may prompt wind chill advisories later this week into Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve wind chills may drop to 25 below Sunday morning and could be close to 30 below Sunday night.

"Christmas Day is looking quite cold," Packingham said, noting people with pets will want to take precautions. Those who may let an indoor pet roam will want to make sure those cats or dogs are inside.

The three-month winter outlook continues to call for greater than normal precipitation and below normal temperatures for Minnesota. But on the positive side, temperatures typically warm by the end of February into the low 30s with overnight lows in the teens. And—it may not be too late to put a remote car starter on the Christmas list.

National outlook for Christmas travel

"As frigid air plunges into and builds over the central United States, a stormy pattern with snow, ice and rain may unfold from Texas to Maine for Christmas holiday travelers," Accuweather reported. "During a typical winter, this weather pattern can bring a storm and travel concerns once every five to seven days.

"However, with the pattern anticipated from Dec. 21 to Dec. 26, there is the potential for three storms that may be disruptive to travel in areas from the Rockies and southern Plains to the Midwest and Northeast states."

Christmas and winter weather records

In the Brainerd lakes area:

• Warmest on record—43 degrees in 1999.

• Coldest Christmas—the high topped out at 10 below zero in 1983.

• Coldest Christmas night—32 below in 1968.

• Largest snowfall—4 inches in 1982.

• Maximum snow depth—18 inches on the ground in 1969.

• Zero snow depth—1975.

• Highest average temperature—29 degrees in 1939.

• Warmest Christmas night—32 degrees for the minimum temperature in 1940.

• Warmest winter season (looking at average temperature)—22.4 degrees in 1930-1931.

• Coldest winter season (average temperature)—1.1 degree in 1903-1904.

• Normal seasonal snowfall looking at 30 years of data—26.2 inches.

• Greatest seasonal snowfall—62.6 inches in 1968-1969.

• Least seasonal snowfall—5.5 inches in 1960-1961.

Source: The National Weather Service office in Duluth reports the temperature records go back to 1899 while the snow records go back to 1908.

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