MANKATO — If the air feels a bit fresher this morning, it is.
Rather than flowing from the crowded, smoggy West Coast, as it did for much of the past three weeks, today's air is courtesy of northern Saskatchewan.
"It left there about a day ago," said Rick Hiltbrand, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen.
A place of no paved roads, a wilderness where a hamlet of 250 people is as big as the cities get, northern Saskatchewan has plenty of unspoiled air to offer. In Stony Rapids in the far north of Saskatchewan, for instance, it was 33 degrees below zero Sunday. And a shifted jet stream is whipping that air straight toward Mankato.
"The pattern were getting into right now kind of goes back to where we were the first week in November," Hiltbrand said.
Which isn't good news for folks who prefer mild weather. November of 2014 was the ninth coldest November on record. Starting Nov. 10, 21 of the ensuing 24 days brought below average temperatures to Mankato — bottoming out on Thanksgiving when the high was 9 degrees and the low was -9, which is a full 27 degrees colder than normal.
Then the jet stream shifted to a westward flow, bringing air from California and even southwestern states. In the 18 days beginning Dec. 10, only one was below average in Mankato and high temperatures reached 52 degrees mid-month.
The roller-coaster winter began its latest plunge Monday, and this one might be reminiscent of the big drop in November. Lows were expected to drop to 8 below zero Tuesday morning with the high temperature forecast to top out at zero, followed by a 6 below low early Wednesday.
High temperatures are forecast to return to the 20s Thursday, Friday and Saturday before plummeting again.
The National Weather Service has forecasting models that predict weather trends up to 16 days into the future. So going out to Jan. 14, Hiltbrand sees a jet stream that has a pair of branches. One will continue to allow Saskatchewan to share its icy air with Minnesota. The other branch could feed moister air into the region from the west.
"Still, we're fighting that northerly flow," he said. "... That could keep winter in full force."
And the contribution from the westerly branch of the jet stream?
"You could get some pretty good snow storms out of that," Hiltbrand said.
That long-range outlook shows a high temperature of 10 degrees on Jan. 14 and a low of 7 below zero. Even for January in Minnesota, that's well below average — just like that miserable stretch of cold in November.
"We broke out of it in December," he said. "And now we're going back."
If it's any consolation, the weather will be worse in Stony Rapids. Starting Wednesday night, temperatures there are forecast to remain below zero continuously for at least the next 12 days.