Cold holiday travel toll: Dozens of crashes, including fatal one in Clay County

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 23, 2012 - 9:30 PM

Icy roads, blowing snow led to scores of accidents and cars sliding into ditches on Minnesota roads.

Residents across the Twin Cities are waking up to the coldest weather of the season Saturday while thermometers in northern Minnesota are expected to record readings near zero during the weekend.

The predicted low of 12 degrees in the metro area would be the lowest since March 4, when the mercury bottomed out at 8 degrees, the National Weather Service said. In Bemidji, the overnight temperature was expected to dip to 5 above zero.

The arctic air mass that moved in Thursday displaced balmy conditions with temperatures hitting 60, before plunging into the 20s with light snow that made conditions treacherous for Black Friday shoppers.

Snowfall ranged from a minimal dusting to as much as 3 inches in the metro, but in northeastern Minnesota some areas got nearly a foot of snow Thursday night. Finland, along the North Shore, reported 10 inches of snow and in western Wisconsin, parts of Bayfield and Douglas counties were hit with a foot.

Winds gusting as high as 52 miles per hour in Willmar sent scores of vehicles into the ditch and led to numerous crashes. In one incident, a state trooper attending to vehicles that slid off northbound Hwy. 10 near Marian Street north of Sauk Rapids received minor injuries when his squad car was struck, said State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske.

One person died after a vehicle went off Hwy. 32 and into open water in Clay County, about 2 miles north of Rollag. The State Patrol said there were two people in the vehicle when it left the road at about 5:30 p.m. Friday and went into the water. One of those occupants drowned.

Sgt. Jesse Grabow said there were patches of ice and packed snow on the road at the time, but authorities are investigating if weather was a factor. He said it was not snowing at the time of the crash.

Earlier Friday, poor road conditions had prompted Grabow to send out two words of advice in all capital letters on his Twitter account: "SLOW DWN."

As of Friday evening, the State Patrol had responded to 238 crashes on Minnesota roads, including 51 rollovers. The patrol reported more than 30 injuries and said at least 271 vehicles needed to be pulled out of ditches.

The metro forecast for Saturday calls for partial sun and less windy conditions. Highs could reach 32 degrees before dipping into the low 20s Saturday night, with a 30 percent chance of snow mixed with freezing rain. The sun returns Sunday, with highs once again near freezing. A warm-up is possible by the end of next week, with high temperatures nearing 40, according to the forecast issued by the Weather Service office in Chanhassen.

But cooler weather and more snow might be on the way for central and northern Minnesota, with about an inch in St. Cloud and up to 3 inches in Duluth and Brainerd over the weekend, the Weather Service said.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768 Twitter: @timstrib

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