© 2019 Terry Swails

IS THAT A BIRD, IS IT A PLANE, NO IT'S SNOW...!

May 30, 2017

Hey everybody, I hope you had a rousing holiday weekend. There were a few trouble spots but for the most part, the weather was cooperative. Amid all the activity I nearly forgot about one of the more remarkable weather events of the past century. If you haven't heard about the great late snow of 1947, pull up a chair and read this article by Jeff Boyne of the NWS in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

The Nearly Forgotten Snow Storm of May 27-29, 1947

Through the years, this late season snow storm has been purged from memories of many people in northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota, and western Wisconsin. Maybe it is that people do not want to think about snow in late May or that the snow quickly melted, but very few remember this storm. If it was not for this author stumbling upon a 9 inch snow amount in Viroqua, Wisconsin this reminder that snow storms can occur this late in the spring in the Upper Mississippi Valley may have never been written.

On the morning of May 27, 1947, a developing low pressure system was located over central Nevada. It was this low which would be responsible for the snow storm over the Central Plains, Upper Mississippi Valley, and Upper Michigan from May 27th through May 29th. A strong arctic high pressure system was located over the Mackenzie Basin in northwest Canada. This high would provide the cold air needed for a winter storm to develop. A mixture of rain and snow developed over Colorado and Wyoming during the day on May 27th and changed to all snow during the night as the low deepened and moved slowly east through southern Colorado.

On the morning of the 28th, the high pressure center had moved rapidly south to southern Saskatchewan. This high pressure area brought unprecedented cold for late May to North Dakota. Temperatures fell to as low as 15 degrees at Eckman, which is located near the Canadian border. In addition, the mercury fell to 23 degrees at Bismarck which is the lowest ever recorded there after May 20th. Meanwhile, below freezing temperatures were found across Montana, Wyoming, northeastern Colorado, western Nebraska, northern Minnesota, and western South Dakota. The sub freezing temperatures caused a partial to total loss of fruits and tender plants. During the day, this cold air surged southward across eastern Nebraska, eastern South Dakota, Iowa, southern Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Many cold maximum temperatures were established across the region for the day.

At the same time this was occurring, the area of low pressure was continuing to strengthen as it moved east through southern Kansas. From the evening of the 27th through the 28th, this low produced a 6-12" snow band from southeast Wyoming east across northern Nebraska into northwest Iowa. The heaviest snow in this band was found in Alliance and Harrison, Nebraska where 12" had fallen. The weight from the heavy wet snow caused considerable damage to power lines, telephone lines, telegraph lines, trees, and shrubs.

During the late afternoon and evening of May 28th, the surface low began to move northeast across northern Missouri, northwest Illinois, and southeast Wisconsin. The reason for this change in direction was due to a strong upper level disturbance that had dropped into the base of the upper level trough over Nebraska during the day. This upper level disturbance caused an amplification of the upper level ridge over the Ohio Valley and much of New England. As a result, temperatures in this region climbed into the 80s instead of the 50s and 60s which were seen the day before. However on the cold side of the system, temperatures remained in the 30s and 40s in the Upper Mississippi Valley. In addition to the cold temperatures, rain changed to snow across southern Minnesota, northeast Iowa, and across much of Wisconsin. This was the latest snow ever reported in a season in this area, with some places experiencing their biggest May snow storm on record.

The image above was taken May 29th 1947 in Westby, Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy Westby Historical Society) 

 

From the late afternoon of the 28th into the early morning hours of the 29th, 7-10" of snow fell across Allamakee County in northeast Iowa, and Vernon, Crawford, southern Monroe, and Richland Counties in southwest Wisconsin. The heaviest snowfall amount was 10" in Gays Mills, WI. Meanwhile, a 7-9" band of snow fell across northern Adams, Waushara, Winnebago, Outagamie, and Waupaca Counties in central and east central Wisconsin. The weight of the heavy snow caused severe damage to power lines, telephone lines, bushes, and trees.

 

The following table, provides some snowfall totals for southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa, and western Wisconsin.

To put into perspective how unusual this event was, no snow has ever been recorded anywhere in Iowa at a later date in the spring. The total of 10.0 inches at Le Mars was the highest snow accumulation on record in Iowa at any time in the month of May until it was bested by the storm of May 1-3, 2013. A series of heavy rains in the following several weeks combined with the snow-melt from this storm to produce historic flooding across many parts of Iowa in June of 1947.

 

Here's two weather maps showing the development and track of the storm.

 

Just a couple days ago (Saturday the 27th) it was raining and a friend was complaining about the wet weather on a holiday weekend. I said, hey it could always be worse. Case in point! Roll weather...TS 

 

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