Three people were killed on Minnesota highways Monday and the state Transportation Department pulled some plows off the road as a blizzard roared across western Minnesota, blinding drivers and coating pavement with snow and ice.
Two people were killed in a four-vehicle accident at midday on Interstate 94 near Barnesville, between Fergus Falls and Moorhead, and one died in a head-on collision on Hwy. 23 south of Granite Falls just after 7:30 a.m.
Winds of up to 30 miles per hour, with gusts pushing 40, were actually drilling under a crust atop a deep snow pack and lifting that snow into the air, reducing visibility, National Weather Service meteorologist Tony Zaleski said. More snow was falling as well. The state Transportation Department started ordering plows off the highways about 4 p.m. in the Willmar area. By 6 p.m. plows had been withdrawn from roads in six west-central Minnesota counties. Willmar school officials also ordered buses on out-of-town routes to return to the school because of the poor conditions and asked parents to make arrangements to pick their kids up.
Plows were expected to be back on the job before Tuesday morning’s commute under clearing skies, although winds were expected to remain strong through the day.
According to the State Patrol, the wreck on I-94 was caused when a car tried to slip past a semitrailer truck in the left lane and a MnDOT plow on the shoulder, hitting both, stalling and then being struck by a pickup truck. Names of the dead, who were apparently in the car, were not available. The pickup driver suffered a minor injury; the plow and semi drivers were uninjured.
The westbound lanes were closed for several hours Monday afternoon.
In the accident near Granite Falls, 35-year-old Terrie McCoss of Marshall was killed when her northbound sedan was hit when Jennifer Heslin, 50, of Granite Falls, lost control of her SUV and crossed the center line.
The cold front that brought the high winds Monday sent temperatures plummeting across the state. In the Twin Cities, the temperature dropped from a high of 34 just before noon to 16 at 7 p.m., with a windchill reading of 2 degrees. Fergus Falls at that hour was experiencing an air temperature of 0 and windchill of minus-24.
The Weather Service warned of windchills of 20 below to 30 below for the metro area Tuesday night; a blizzard warning was to remain posted for west-central Minnesota until midnight.
The Twin Cities temperature was expected to drop to 2 below by Tuesday morning, rise to only 5 Tuesday, then fall to 8 below by Wednesday morning.
The snow and following cold are part of a long parade of storm systems from the Canadian Arctic in recent weeks. But a jet stream shift later this week is expected to bring a storm originating in the southern Rockies to the Twin Cities, one that could dump 6 to 7 inches of snow on the metro area from Thursday into Friday, Zaleski said.
Temperatures should rise into the upper 20s with that storm later in the week, but the replenished snow cover “should extend the winter,” Zaleski said.