BY NIKKI MEYER
The weather just keeps on coming here in Minnesota. February 2019 has already broken the 1962 record— 26.5 inches—for snowiest February in Minneapolis in recorded state history. The Twin Cities were up to nearly 32 inches with last Wednesday’s storm. Sunday’s blizzard only added to the total, with more snow in the forecast for this week.
This month is also making its way up the ranks for most snow in any given month in MN—sitting in 6th place as of Feb. 25, according to the National Weather Service. Normal average snowfall in Minneapolis is only 7.8 inches. In Mankato it’s 6.4 inches. It is worth noting that the last time Minnesota saw over 30 inches of snow in a single month was the month the Metrodome roof collapsed. Even though we’re up there for the monthly total, the all-time monthly snowfall record is unlikely to be broken. That one was set in the wake of the 1991 Halloween Blizzard, when 46.9 inches of snow fell in November.
While last Wednesday’s blizzard tipped the scales for snowiest month, and breifly shut down two runways at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the it wasn’t the record for the largest snowfall on that day of the month. 2011 holds the official snowfall record of 11.8 inches for Feb. 20.
After Wednesday’s storm finished dumping its load of snow, residents took a quick breath on Thursday and Friday, then prepared to be battered again over the weekend. Saturday proved to be fairly quiet in our region—until evening fell. Sunday’s blizzard would far and away outdo the effects of Wednesday’s snowfall.
A little after 7:00 p.m. Sheriff Freitag of the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office posted, “We are in a blizzard warning and at 1930 (7:30 p.m.), I-90 will be closed at Alden for eastbound and westbound traffic. All traffic west of Alden will be closed and traffic east of Alden will remain open until further notice. County plows have been pulled and MN DOT plows are having a tough time keeping up. Visibility is greatly reduced. Tow trucks are not pulling vehicles out. Please don’t go out on the roads until after the weather has improved.”
Highway 169 south of Amboy, Highway 15 south of Fairmont and Highway 263 south of Welcome all closed around the same time due to whiteout conditions.
At 10:00 p.m. Governor Walz ended up declaring a Peacetime State of Emergency in Steele and Freeborn counties. Heavy snow and winds stranded motorists in the area, and the Minnesota National Guard was activated to assist with search and rescue operations. The armories in Albert Lea and Owatonna were opened to serve as shelters. Officials reported at 150 people sought shelter at the Owatonna Armory, while nearly 100 more stayed at the Albert Lea shelter. Others were reported to have been housed in shelters in the Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatanna, and at places in Ellendale and Blooming Prairie.
In Steele County the Minnesota National Guard rescued at least 20 drivers, and in Freeborn County another 68 people and a dog were rescued.
On Sunday morning the Sherburn Fire Department & Ambulance Service required the use of a state snow plow to get them first to Ceylon, then to the hospital in Fairmont and finally back to Sherburn again. By noon on Sunday the Martin County Sheriff’s Office posted that, “Due to the extreme blizzard conditions the county plows are being pulled from the roads. Absolutely no travel is being advised.”
Forty-five miuntes later the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office declared a State of Emergency for Olmsted County and requested the use of the Minnesota National Guard in rescuing stranded motorist throughout the county.
ABC 5 Eyewitness News reported, “Many drivers were forced to leave their vehicles, which were swallowed up by the snow... Dozens of other drivers stayed warm at the Kwik Trip at Exit 45, off Interstate 35. A gas station employee told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS there were 50 to 60 people waiting inside the store at one point.” https://kstp.com/news/this-is-insane-dozens-of-drivers-abandon-their-vehicles-during-whiteout-conditions/5257561/?cat=1
Abandoned vehicles only made the already poor conditions worse. The Minnesota Department of Transportation posted a photo on their Facebook page at 12:35 p.m. with the message, “This is what Minnesota Department of Transportation plow drivers are up against today. Stuck cars littered [the road] this morning. Plow drivers have to navigate around those cars and can’t clear that part of the road. This delays snow removal efforts and prevents them from doing their work safely and effectively.”
By 5:00 p.m. no travel advisories had been issued in Blue Earth, Nicollet, Brown, Watonwan, and Waseca counties. A number of state highways were closed, and large stretches of interstates 90 and 35 were barricaded. Drifts as high as six feet tall were reported between Courtland and Nicollet.
In Brown County, the Sherriff’s Office would later report via Facebook, “Numerous motorists reported being stuck both on and off the road in drifts across the County. The Sheriff’s Office’s UTV with tracks had to be used to rescue a motorist in Sigel Township. The River Valley Dutchman Snowmobile club’s groomer with tracks had to be used to get to stuck motorists on County Road 29 west of Highway 4 north of Sleepy Eye because the road was not passable to vehicles. The Brown County Highway Department plow assisted the Comfrey Fire Department in getting to a motorist that was stuck approximately six miles west of Comfrey on County Road 17, and also assisted two tow trucks with removing two vehicles that were stuck on the roadway on Highway 15 north of Searles.” The department also thanked all who assisted with the rescues.
Snowmobiles were also reportedly called out to aid with rescues in Martin County. Truman’s Kitzerow Repair & Towing reported a two and a half hour trek home from Granada after being called out by MnDOT and the State Patrol to help clear the Highway 15. Upon making it home to Truman, owner Josh Kitzerow said he found the “end of Ciro [Street] gone,”—swallowed up by the snow.
Madelia also experienced a high volume of traveler emergencies. The Madelia Fire Department reported assisting 52 people who were stranded overnight at the Faith and Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church Parish, ELCA. On the department’s Facebook page it states, “What [started] as an initial call from Krystal at La Plaza F!esta about stranded guests at 3 p.m., to assessing the number of others at various points in Madelia waiting out the storm, we created an emergency plan that began with setting up the location and calling in firefighters to staff it. Total Lawn Care & Landscape, cleared snow without asking so we could get in, and by 4:30 the shelter was operational and accepting guests.” Residents contributed food, the Madelia Community Hospital & Clinic and Living Meadows at Luther - Madelia for supplied bedding and the Madelia Police Department and Maloney Enterprises brought rescued travelers into the church for safety.
In St. James, the St. Cloud Huskies hockey team spent the night at the Watonwan County Jail after getting stranded in a drift outside the town on their way home from Omaha, NE.
Plows finally began braving the roads once again on Monday morning. Just after 6:15 a.m. the Martin County Sherriff’s Department reported, “I-90 from east MN to Worthington is still closed. Many county roads are still closed as well. Plows have been out clearing roads, but whiteout conditions are still possible and large snow drifts have formed.” At 7:20 the Olmstead County Sheriff’s Department stated, “Travel is still not advised in Olmsted County; many roads are impassable and we are under a windchill advisory.” The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department echoed the message just after 8 a.m. “County plows have been out for several hours trying to get at least one lane open on County Roads. Their progress is being slowed by vehicles that got stuck yesterday or overnight in the middle of the roadway. Plows are trying to navigate around them. Public Works hopes to have traffic moving on all county roads by this afternoon.”
To the south, the Des Moines Register reported around 11:15 a.m. “Interstate Highway 35 has been closed for more than 24 hours and Iowa Department of Transportation officials predict it won’t reopen until Monday afternoon.” The article states that due to drifting snow and limited visibility, as reported by the Iowa Department of Transportation, the gate system was activated at the U.S. 30/I-35 interchange, forcing vehicles to exit at U.S. 30. More than 100 miles of the road was closed down, and “hundreds of semi trucks have since lined up on the sides of roads and filled parking lots around Ames waiting for the route to reopen, Iowa State Patrol spokesman Nathan Ludwig said Monday morning.”
The snow was so deep and drifted in places that it had even caused a Union Pacific Train to get stuck in a reported 200 feet long, eight foot high snow drift in Freeborn county, along with the engine that came to help free it. Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management (MHSEM) reported seven people were stranded aborad the trains and had to be rescued by the National Guard using its small unit support vehicle (SUSV).
Of Sunday’s blizzard the National Weather Service said, “On Saturday, February 23 and Sunday, February 24 a very powerful winter storm brought whiteout conditions across much of Minnesota and Wisconsin. A narrow band of heavy snow fell from central Iowa, through southeast Minnesota, and up through northern Wisconsin. Several locations within this band saw over a foot of snow (orange shading). Very strong winds developed as the snow was ending Saturday night and these winds continued through Sunday. Many locations had wind gusts of 50 mph or stronger.” Martin County was included in those areas with wind gusts reaching at least 49 mph. St. Paul recorded speeds up to 62 mph. “This led to significant blowing and drifting snow, making travel very difficult or impossible. Most roads in southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin were impassable, and hundreds of motorists became stranded in the blizzard. Portions of Interstate 90 and Interstate 35 were closed for over 24 hours in south central Minnesota.”
According to MHSEM more than 600 motorists were rescued in reporting southern Minnesota counties over the weekend, which doesn’t include Blue Earth, Red Wing or Goodhue counties, which did not provide rescue numbers as of Monday at noon.
A sentiment echoed over and over again from various reporting agencies was that all unnecessary travel should be avoided any time travel advisories are issued and that motorists should check https://hb.511mn.org before traveling. Calling your local dispatch for road conditions bogs down an important system that is needed to deal with emergencies. The MN511 app can also be downloaded on mobile and other devices. Travelers should also keep a winter emergency supplies in their vehicles.
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday
9:00 - noon, 1:00 - 4:00
9:00 a.m. - Noon
2018 Subscription Rates for 1 Year
Martin County/Lewisville - $40
Elsewhere in MN - $48
Out of State - $55
Please mail a check or use the button below to subscribe.