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Hot Shots: Blizzard, dust storm, brush fire

Highlighting images in transportation, trucking and weather

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Every Friday, FreightWaves takes a look at the past week or so in social media, highlighting images in trucking, transportation and weather. This week features whiteout conditions in the Upper Midwest, dusty conditions in the northern Plains and a California brush fire fanned by high winds.


An Alberta Clipper system — a fast-moving winter storm that typically enters the north-central U.S. from Canada — hit the Upper Midwest on Thursday. It dumped 3 to 7 inches of snow in northern parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin and produced gusty winds.

Just a bit to the west, along the Interstate 29 corridor, much less snow piled up. But gusts reached 40 to 50 mph Thursday night from eastern North Dakota to western Minnesota, exceeding 50 mph Friday morning. Blowing snow led to periods of whiteout conditions and very low visibility.

Dusty plains

High winds kicked up quite a bit of dust and dirt Tuesday in the northern Plains. Gusts ranged from 45 to nearly 60 mph in eastern Wyoming, the Dakotas and western Nebraska as a mostly dry storm front moved through the region.

This video was shot in Fedora, South Dakota, about 80 miles west of Sioux Falls, the nearest official weather observation station. The peak gust there Tuesday was 44 mph.

On fire

A brush fire popped up in Southern California early Thursday morning during a winter heat wave with highs in the 80s and lower 90s. The Emerald fire, named for the Emerald Bay community of Laguna Beach, was reported at 4:30 a.m. PT, growing to 145 acres within a couple of hours. The fire was fanned by gusty Santa Ana winds in the area, ranging from 25 to 45 mph.

A portion of California State Route 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) was closed for a while Thursday morning, but was reopened later in the day. Officials don’t know what sparked the fire, which comes after one of California’s worst fire seasons in recent years in 2021, but it happened despite major drought relief the past couple of months. As of Thursday night, the Emerald fire was still at 145 acres and 20% contained.

Beauty shot

This week’s beauty shot features Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds spotted Wednesday near Ames, Iowa.

Kelvin-Helmholtz instability occurs wherever there’s a velocity difference across the interface between two fluids. The most obvious example is wind blowing over water, with fast-moving air creating waves on the slower-moving water. A similar interaction happens in the atmosphere between wind and moisture. Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds are named for Lord Kelvin and Hermann von Helmholtz, the scientists who studied the physics behind this type of cloud formation.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.