North Dakota is believed to be at the geographic center of North America. The Upper Midwestern State is bordered in the north by Canada, Minnesota in the east, Montana in the west, and South Dakota in the south. Due to the unique position of the state, North Dakota experiences extremely high and low climate conditions, such as hot summers and cold winters. Thus, reports support North Dakota’s claim as the second coldest state in the United States, behind Alaska.
First snows in North Dakota are just as unpredictable as the climate, but they can also be a beautiful sight with thin snow layers on autumn leaves. This article delves into the snowfall patterns of the northern state as well as the earliest and latest first snows on record.
Understanding First Snow in North Dakota
North Dakota is famous for being quite snowy in wintertime. However, there is often a build-up towards these cold times of the year. First snows happen during the fall despite winter being more than a month away. According to news reports, North Dakota usually has its first snow in October.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center states that snow is formed when ice crystals in the clouds come together when the atmospheric temperature is below zero degrees Celsius. If the temperature on the ground is also zero degrees or less, the snow will reach the ground. If the ground temperature is high, these ice accumulations might come down as rain instead.
The first snowfall is often brief, and the accumulation on the ground is mostly in grassy areas. The highways are not usually affected, as the roads would merely be wet. Heavier snowfalls will occur in North Dakota during winter. By that time of the year, there would be more moisture in the air and freezing temperatures on the ground.
Earliest and Latest First Snows on Record
According to reports, the earliest first snow in North Dakota’s history happened in Bismarck on September 12th, 1903. The second earliest first snow in the state’s history was September 25th, 1912, in Fargo. Both cities are some of the snowiest in the state.
In September, North Dakota is still in the fall, expecting the coming of winter. The average first snow in North Dakota happens in October, which is closer to the beginning of winter. However, some areas in the state can see their first snow in late October.
Record Snowfall in North Dakota
According to National Weather Service, the record snowfall in North Dakota was an infamous blizzard that rocked the state in 1966. The blizzard was known for its long duration, which extended from March 2nd to 5th, with snowfalls between 20 to 30 inches and wind gusts that reached 70 miles per hour.
In some areas of the state, the snow rose 30 to 40 feet on the ground, covering up cars and power lines. Grand Forks experienced its record snowfall on March 4th, with snow of up to 27.8 inches.
The blizzard began in southern North Dakota on March 2nd before it spread northward in the following days. Visibility in heavy-snowing areas like Fargo was extremely poor on those days, and the temperature continued to fall. It was a terrible period for North Dakota as lives and livestock were lost due to the chilling temperatures, heavy snow, and strong winds.
How Long Are Winters in North Dakota?
According to North Dakota Response, winter in the state lasts between three to five months, from late November to late March. This period of the year is usually windy and freezing for North Dakotans and the animal species that reside in the state. Temperatures can sometimes be as low as -51 degrees Celsius. While precipitation in North Dakota, for most of the year, is in the form of rain, it is mostly snowy during winter. In the northern state, the winter snow can often get much, with ice, freezing rain, and sleet occurrences in the winter months.
Winter in North Dakota comes with many dangers for residents and animals, including blizzards and snow storms. On certain days during the winter, the snow can accumulate to tall heights, hindering transportation and sometimes affecting other amenities. When winter is over, the snow begins to melt and could flood certain areas of the state, such as the Red River Valley, in spring.
According to collated data, places like Fargo and Bismarck can experience snowfall between 40 to 50 inches annually. However, winter is not all bad in North Dakota, as the new landscapes provide many activities for outdoor enthusiasts. During the winter, North Dakota becomes a destination for skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.
Winter Wildlife in North Dakota
Winter often comes with the hibernation of many animal species, such as bears, garter snakes, and turtles. Food is often scarce, and their habitats get quite cold. These situations force animals to reduce their metabolic rates, become less active, thereby expending less energy, and sleeping for days. However, not all animals hibernate during the winter. Some animal species can thrive during these harsh conditions. In North Dakota, some of the fascinating wildlife that can be seen in the state are listed below:
5. Sharp-tailed grouse
10. Red fox
11. Pocket gopher
Snowiest City in North Dakota
North Dakota experiences one of the coldest winters in America. Its snowiest city is Fargo, which is also the state’s most populous city. According to reports, Fargo gets an average of more than 50 inches of annual snowfall. The snow can get so heavy that plows find it difficult to get rid of them.
According to news reports, Fargo is still a long way from being the snowiest city in the country. That title goes to Syracuse, NY, which has an average snowfall of 127.8 inches. It is believed that the closeness of the large Lake Ontario plays a massive part in the city’s heavy snow.
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- World Population Review, Available here: https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/coldest-states
- Only in Your State, Available here: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/north-dakota/snowiest-city-nd/
- The Weather Channel, Available here: https://weather.com/storms/winter/news/2022-10-13-earliest-first-snow-cities