Buried in the blizzard: Snow fell -- and kept falling

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 12, 2010 - 9:57 AM

The biggest snowstorm to hit the Twin Cities since the Halloween storm a generation ago whited out -- and pretty much paralyzed -- the metro area and much of the rest of Minnesota Saturday.

It certainly lived up to the hype -- and is on its way to being historic.

Variously described as Snowmaggedon and Snowmygawd, the biggest snowstorm to hit the Twin Cities since the Halloween storm a generation ago whited out -- and pretty much paralyzed -- the metro area and much of the rest of central and southern Minnesota on Saturday.

One of the casualties was the roof of the Metrodome, which collapsed overnight.

The dome collapsed after 5 a.m., Roy Terwilliger, head of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, told WCCO-AM.

Terwilliger said that a rip in a panel in the middle of the roof caused it to deflate.

As predicted, more than a foot of snow had fallen across a wide swath of the state by Saturday evening, shutting down highways, bedeviling snowplow drivers and shuttering stores and pre-holiday events.

The storm was shaping up to be one of the most historic ever recorded in Minnesota, easily piling up into the Top 10 snowfalls ever measured in the Twin Cities.

By Saturday evening, nearly 17 inches had been dumped on Minneapolis, with snow still falling. Nearly 22 inches fell in Shakopee. Although that accumulation was short of the 28.4 inches of snow recorded in the storied Halloween blizzard of 1991, it was by far the deepest since then.

One casualty was the Vikings-Giants game at the Dome today, which will now be moved to Monday night after concerns about the roof and the Giants having to spend the night in Kansas City.

Snow fell at a furious rate all day, abetted by howling winds out of the northwest that created near-impossible driving conditions in western and west-central Minnesota.

And on the heels of the snow, brutal subzero temperatures roared into the state for at least the next two days.

Across the Twin Cities, residents shoveled, ran snow blowers, got stuck, dug each other out, canceled Christmas shopping (even the Mall of America gave up and closed early) and gazed out exasperated but awestruck at the beautiful, terrible storm.

And everywhere, good Samaritans abounded. Gina Rice, who was driving from her Woodbury home to Hudson, Wis., described a scene where accidents blocked both the east and west exits from Interstate 94 to southbound 494. The cloverleaf exit from the east was blocked by two semis that couldn't make the turns because snow didn't offer enough room for their wide-turning vehicles. "The exit ramp from the west had four people stuck in the drifts, including myself," she said. "Then one good Samaritan single-handedly directed traffic and shoved out his van and three other cars, including mine."

By midday, the blizzard had reduced visibility to less than a city block in Minneapolis.

The severity of the snow prompted the Metro Transit system to shut down its bus routes Saturday afternoon, leaving many travelers stranded. Buses were to start running at 10 a.m. Sunday. Train service wasn't affected.

And for the first time in years, the storm completely shut down Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport about 11:30 a.m. One of the airport's four runways reopened late Saturday afternoon, allowing flights to resume -- though nearly all airlines serving the Twin Cities had canceled operations.

As the blizzard continued to rage, airport managers were opening the runway for a half-hour, then closing it for 20 minutes so crews could plow, said spokesman Pat Hogan.

The chaotic day was eased somewhat because Saturday is not a typically heavy travel day and because, in anticipation of the storm, airlines had canceled about half of their flights into and out of the airport.

The New York Giants had moved up their departure time by about four hours Saturday in hopes they could get into the Twin Cities early in advance of Sunday's big game at the Metrodome.

With the Twin Cities airport shut down, the Giants' chartered plane was diverted to Kansas City and the team ended up spending Saturday night in Missouri. Then late Saturday, the Vikings switched the game to Monday night.

The storm prompted the state Department of Transportation to shut down Interstate 90 from Albert Lea to South Dakota. Scores of other highways, including I-94 in western Wisconsin, also closed.

The State Patrol reported 129 crashes statewide Saturday, more that three-quarters of them in the metro area. Nearly 600 vehicles spun out or slid off the road.

With no signs that the storm was abating, officials advised that no travel whatsoever be attempted across a wide swath of Minnesota, including the metro area.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul declared snow emergencies, as did the suburbs of Robbinsdale, Golden Valley, White Bear Lake, Hastings, Hopkins and Red Wing.

Conditions had deteriorated so badly Saturday evening that MnDOT pulled its plows off the roads. "With this type of a storm, it's a blanket approach, because it's a visibility issue," MnDOT spokeswoman Rebecca Arndt said. "Plows were pulled off the roads early Saturday because of visibility in the southwest and south-central."

Hennepin County officials decided to do the same, pulling all but five of its snowplows.

In Vadnais Heights, the new Sports Dome deflated, partly due to a design flaw and partly because of snow that caused an ice buildup, said Mark Bigelbach, dome designer and manager. So after sending a practicing soccer team home, workers deflated the dome. He hopes to have the dome reinflated by Wednesday.

Next comes the cold

Sunday's high in the metro area was forecast around 5 above zero, with windchill values between 21 below and 31 below. A north-northwest wind will blow, with gusts as high as 28 miles per hour.

Sunday night's low will be around 15 below, with windchill values between 23 below and 33 below.

The Salvation Army, for the first time, canceled bell ringing in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Scores of events, including the Holidazzle parade in Minneapolis and high school hockey and basketball games and wrestling and gymnastics meets across the Twin Cities, were canceled. Among them, ironically, was a celebration in St. Paul of the 20th anniversary of Will Steger's International Trans-Antarctica Expedition. The weather was just too foul to hold it.

Staff writers Tim Harlow and Jim Adams contributed to this report. Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

ST. PAUL Phase 1 (night plowing): Beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday, parking was banned on streets posted as "Night Plow Route" or on sides of streets posted as "Night Plow Route This Side of Street." Generally this includes downtown and arterial streets and one side of north-south residential streets. Phase 2 (day plowing): Parking resumes Sunday on fully plowed night plow routes, including the fully plowed side of residential streets marked as night plow routes. All-day plow routes (nonposted east-west residential streets and nonposted sides of north-south residential streets) will be plowed Sunday, beginning typically at 8 a.m. Parking is banned until snow has been plowed to the curb. Information: Call 651-266-PLOW (651-266-7569) or visit www.stpaul.gov/snow. To get e-mail alerts, click on the SnowAlert link. If you are towed: For vehicles towed from areas north of Interstate 94, call 651-603-6895. For vehicles towed from south of I-94, call 651-292-6005. For weather updates, go to startribune.com MINNEAPOLIS Phase 1 (until 8 a.m. Sunday): Don't park on either side of a snow-emergency route until it is fully plowed to the curb. Snow-emergency routes are marked with red snow-emergency signs and blue street name signs. Phase 2 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday): Don't park on the even-numbered side of non-snow-emergency routes (for the most part, residential streets) until fully plowed. Also, don't park on either side of city parkways until they are fully plowed. For a list of parkways, go to www.startribune.com/a37. Phase 3 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday): Don't park on the odd-numbered side of non-snow-emergency routes (for the most part, residential streets) until they are fully plowed. After 8 p.m., parking resumes on both sides of all streets unless posted otherwise or further winter parking restrictions are put into effect. Information: For information in several languages, call 612-348-SNOW (612-348-7669) or visit www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/snow, where you can also sign up for e-mail, phone or text-message notification of snow emergencies. TTY: 612-673-2116. If you are towed: Call 612-673-5777 for details. TTY: 612-673-2157. SNOW-EMERGENCY PARKING RULES The Twin Cities declared snow emergencies that took effect late Saturday and early Sunday. Here's a summary of the parking rules. For information on road conditions, call 511 or visit www.511mn.org. For Metro Transit information, call 612-373-3333 (TTY service: 612-341-0140).
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