Well, not quite yet, but weather is about to hit all of the Upper Midwest. The Birkie Trail should get a few inches of snow today and tonight, wetter and heavier snow that will groom up well, and a few inches of snow on Tuesday night that will be drier and more powdery. If that was all that was coming, we’d declare it perfect to be groomed up before the race.
The main event arrives on Wednesday evening, with an additional foot of snow (or potentially more) falling overnight and into Thursday. This will be drier, colder snow, it will be windy, and the NWS is throwing the “B” word around (blizzard) so expect travel to be difficult. The Birkie will probably push this snow off to the side of the trail and try to groom up some of the denser snow below. But it’s going to be a soft, and slow, Birkie.
Travel impacts are going to be significant. It won’t begin snowing in earnest until later on Wednesday night in Hayward, but snow will begin to the south earlier, and may continue throughout the day on Wednesday (albeit light). The worst travel will be on Wednesday evening and morning and midday Thursday, with heavy snow and strong winds from a Des Moines-Madison line north. Snow will begin to lighten up on Thursday but may continue through the day, with a foot or more in Hayward and up to two feet further south. Driving on Thursday may prove nearly impossible.
Friday looks much better. Cold (very cold overnight) but calm and not precipitating. It may serve skiers well to plan to travel north on Friday morning rather than Thursday, although road crews may have a handle on things on Thursday evening.
For those flying in, Thursday could be a mess. This is an impressive storm, on Wednesday evening impacts should stretch across the country, from Denver to Boston, so flights may not depart on time (or at all). Minneapolis should be able to handle the snow, although storms of this magnitude are rare, and airlines may proactively cancel some flights, especially for aircraft which would spend the night overnight in Minneapolis, in order to give crews the ability to keep the airfield clear. As a Delta hub, most aircraft are already off to other destinations overnight, but I would not be surprised to see significant cancelations on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning: airlines do not like aircraft to be stranded by weather, since that affects schedules downstream as well. By Thursday afternoon, with the snow letting up, I would expect more flights to be operating as the airlines will need to begin to move stranded passengers. If you are flying and want to change your flight, Delta has a change fee waiver up, and other airlines likely have the same.
Note that this storm may be the heaviest snowfall all time in February in Minneapolis, it would have to surpass 13.8″ to make that mark. That occurred February 20 of 2011, which was the Sunday and Monday before Birkie, so it did not affect travel to the race. The 2014 storm did hit Minneapolis solidly, although not as hard as Hayward, and it also hit significantly later in the day on Thursday and into Friday. That storm began in the evening on Thursday in Hayward and continued through midday on Friday, about 24 hours “later” than the current storm. This should be good news for Birkie skiers—the Birkie will have an extra day to do things like plow parking areas—but may mean tricky conditions for those participating in Friday events. So if you’re in the Kortelopet or Prince Haakon, leave a lot of extra time to get to parking areas and onto buses on Friday morning.
It also means that conditions on Friday will likely be very soft; remember that was the year with very slow conditions for most skiers. It will be cold overnight on Thursday, and the Birkie groomers will probably try to plow off new snow and pull up old ice to mix in and freeze down, but there’s only so much they can do in 18 hours before the race. For Saturday, the extra day should be helpful for the groomers to plow and compact the snow, but I would still expect the course to be soft, especially as more skiers ski over it. The extra day of compaction by skiers and groomers south of OO may lead to improved conditions for the second half of the race.
Safe travels, and stay tuned for updates here and on the podcast!