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Christmas storm in FM expected to start as 'skating rink,' then turn to snow, possible blizzard

FARGO--The winter storm that will hamper regional travel is expected to begin here early Sunday--Christmas Day--as sleet or freezing rain. That will coat the area with up to an eighth of an inch of ice that will then be topped by snow and possibl...

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FARGO-The winter storm that will hamper regional travel is expected to begin here early Sunday-Christmas Day-as sleet or freezing rain.

That will coat the area with up to an eighth of an inch of ice that will then be topped by snow and possible blizzard conditions Monday, Dec. 26.

"You're going to start out with skating-rink conditions," said Greg Gust, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, on Thursday, Dec. 22, as the storm loomed, still too early for a high level of confidence for precipitation totals.

Precipitation around Fargo-Moorhead will change to snow, which will cover the layer of ice. "So you'll get a chance to get it all," Gust said.

The area where freezing drizzle, sleet or freezing rain is expected extends from Fargo-Moorhead south to Wahpeton-Breckenridge, extending east to Fergus Falls and up to the Park Rapids and Bemidji areas in Minnesota.

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The widespread storm will cause hazardous travel that could hamper first responders and cause periodic power outages, Gust said.

The weather service has issued a winter storm watch for the area beginning at 6 a.m. Sunday until 12 p.m. Monday.

Icy roads could affect the mid- to southern Red River Valley, with more ice to the southeast.

In southeast North Dakota into west-central Minnesota, the onset of the storm will be Sunday from 6 a.m. to noon, beginning as freezing drizzle or sleet.

Noon to 6 p.m. Sunday will bring the onset of heavy snow from western North Dakota into northwest Minnesota, and treacherous travel conditions begin. Heavy snow will continue Sunday night into Monday morning. Strong winds from the northeast will become northwesterly winds by Monday morning.

Blizzard conditions are possible in the Red River Valley westward Sunday night through midday Monday. Travel likely will be "very limited" during that period, Gust said.

"We're expecting blizzard conditions for the Red River Valley and points west," he said.

Forecasts with a higher degree of certainty will start becoming available Friday, but the forecasting models so far agree to a large degree on the path and intensity of the storm, which could produce blizzard conditions here on Monday.

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Fargo-Moorhead could see a snow total of 1 to 10 inches, with 3 inches considered the most likely, Gust said. But because the storm will begin Sunday as sleet and freezing rain, which then could become rain before turning into snow, the precipitation totals are difficult to predict, he said.

"The range of possibilities is still pretty high," he said. Those who plan to travel should keep a close eye on forecasts and road conditions.

The heaviest snow band is expected west and north of here, along a line extending from around Jamestown-Valley City extending northeast to Grand Forks and on to Warroad, Minn., Gust said.

Forecasters expect about a foot of snow along that band. High winds will reduce visibility.

"This storm is expected to bring quite a wide area of heavy snow," Gust said. The snow will be wet and heavy. An area north of Fargo that includes Grand Forks is expected to receive the equivalent of 1.5 inches of water from the storm. Most areas will receive from 0.75 inch to 1.5 inches of moisture, the National Weather Service predicts.

The storm should wind down in the area by Monday evening, Gust said.

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294
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