Winter drops in to snarl Minnesota traffic, delight skiers, snowmobilers

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 10, 2012 - 11:13 PM

Two deaths were attributed to storm, which led to hundreds of crashes and towed cars and quite a few happy outdoor enthusiasts.

The ugly part is over.

Many roads are scraped clean, cars are being reclaimed from impound lots and commuters slowed to a crawl by snow-clogged highways should be feeling a bit of relief from Sunday's major snowstorm. Snow lovers, meanwhile, are revving up snowmobiles and popping on skis and snowshoes that gathered dust for most of last year's winter season.

Cross-country skiing "was a challenge last year," said Sonja Bercich, park operations supervisor at Hyland Lake Park Reserve. Winter visitors mostly hiked rather than skied last year, she said. But the weekend snowstorm that dumped as much as 17 inches on some parts of the metro area sent a stream of eager cross-country skiers to packed and groomed trails while downhill skiers suddenly felt more inspired to hit the hills that have been making snow for weeks.

"Natural snow always gets people in the mood," said Kent Kloster, a supervisor at the Hyland ski area.

But Sunday's storm -- the biggest one to hit Minnesota since the Metrodome-collapsing snowfall on Dec. 10, 2010 -- wasn't fun and games for many. Some parts of the state received 20 inches of snow and the Minnesota State Patrol reported hundreds of crashes between 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. on Monday. There was one reported traffic fatality, a 21-year old Winona man who died in Goodhue County Sunday.

A popular teacher and coach in the New Prague School District died while shoveling snow at his home Sunday after about 10 inches of snow fell there, said Superintendent Larry Kauzlarich. Matt Shetka, 54, a middle school social studies teacher who had been with the district for 33 years, coached high school girls teams in gymnastics and golf. Combined, he led teams to five state titles.

Minneapolis and St. Paul declared snow emergencies while crews cleared city streets. Some residents who didn't move their cars found tickets on their windshields; others had to bail their cars out of impound lots. By early Monday morning, St. Paul had ticketed 2,500 vehicles and towed 650; Minneapolis had towed 750 cars by Monday with one more day left of its snow emergency.

Winter road conditions should be nearing normal on Tuesday, state highway officials said. Days before the storm hit, road crews began prepping the roads by spreading anti-icing materials to keep snow and ice from binding along certain stretches, said Kent Barnard, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. A day after the storm, crews continued to remove compacted snow and ice off the roadways, he said. And by Tuesday, crews will likely begin removing snow piled up along the concrete barriers and rails along roadside medians and bridges.

"We're still seeing some ramps and loops that are slippery," Barnard said. "But it's going to get better and better."

Warming temperatures will help matters, he said.

Monday's single-digit temperatures should give way to a high of 19 degrees on Tuesday and push toward 30 degrees on Wednesday, according to Ross Carlyon with National Weather Service. Dayside temperatures likely will be in the upper 20s in the later part of the week and return to near 30 degrees by Sunday and Monday, he said.

The Twin Cities could get more snow Saturday but it's too early to tell, Carlyon said.

But Sunday's snowfall was enough to spread optimism among winter enthusiasts.

"People are very excited that we might be getting a true winter," said Bercich, who likes to see the Hyland cross-country trails bustling. And for some who had never seen snow before, the weekend storm came at an opportune time.

"We had some visitors from Miami, and some of them hadn't seen snow before," Bercich said. "They rented cross-country skis and with a little guidance they took the challenge."

Staff Writers Paul Walsh, Tim Harlow and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4482

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