Wintry commute frustrates metro motorists; callers swamp AAA

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW and PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: December 9, 2013 - 11:41 AM

Snowfall amounts overnight were less than daunting, but they were enough Monday morning to make Twin Cities motorists ease off the accelerator on greasy highways, and snow-packed and icy city streets and county roads.

Snowfall amounts Monday have been less than daunting, but they were enough to make Twin Cities motorists ease off the accelerator during the morning rush hour on greasy highways, and snow-packed and icy city streets and county roads.

On a day when temperatures will be below normal all across Minnesota and accentuated by stiff winds, the State Patrol responded to scores of spinouts and crashes that tangled traffic and led to big delays throughout the metro.

AAA Minnesota had 896 calls from motorists requesting service as of 11:30 a.m. The agency was projecting 3,000 for the day, said spokeswoman Gail Weinholzer

A multivehicle crash involving a tanker truck on eastbound Interstate 694 at Lexington Avenue in Ramsey County about 7:45 a.m. created a backup that stretched more than 6 miles to Hwy. 252. Motorists ran into gridlock on major routes such as westbound Hwy. 36 in Roseville and on the Crosstown in both directions from Minneapolis to Edina between Cedar Avenue and Hwy. 100.

On I-494, commuters needed 45 minutes to get from Woodbury to Bloomington while Hwy. 610 won the most-treacherous award. A crash that sent one vehicle over the guardrail and down an embankment around 7:45 a.m. at Hwy. 252 punctuated the problems on the Brooklyn Park highway. The road was plagued with spinouts between Noble Parkway and Hwy. 252, and traffic was jammed in both directions for most of the rush hour. At one point the State Patrol briefly shut the down due to the horrendous conditions.

While those were among the worst traffic spots, nobody on mainline routes escaped headaches. Drivers reported doubling and tripling their normal drive times.

Transit riders were also victimized. A mechanical problem with a train at Target Field station led to delays of up to 20 minutes on the Blue Line. By 8:20 a.m., the line was back on schedule, transit officials said. Buses also were running late as of 8 a.m., with delays on about half the routes averaging 6 minutes.

Things had not improved by mid-morning. At 10:30 a.m., the State Patrol was handling a spate of crashes and spinouts.

As the sun creeps up in the sky Monday, temperatures will be heading in the opposite direction. Subzero readings — that’s before factoring in the windchill — were being reported to the National Weather Service (NWS) in every part of the state during the darkest before the dawn.

Hallock, near the borders of North Dakota and Manitoba, was at minus 20 degrees as of 9 a.m. To the east, it was 14 below in Baudette.

An hour earlier, central Minnesota saw its temperatures take a sharp dip: Staples was down to minus 18, and Princeton fell to 6 below.

In the metro area, readings were on the way down. Lakeville’s 6 below was the coldest at 8 a.m., with Eden Prairie and Crystal just a touch warmer at minus 4.

Because of the volume of traffic and the preponderance of on-street parking in Minneapolis and St. Paul, city streets have been in a bad way for the past few days.

Before the salt can start gnawing into ice pack now on the roads, the sun must come out and temperatures need to hit at least 15 degrees. That, however, remains a few days off; Sunday’s temps barely tasted the teens. Road salt is utterly ineffective on ice when temperatures stay below 10 degrees.

Frigid conditions are going to hang on for at least three more days, according to the Weather Service. The best the Twin Cities can hope for Monday is a high of 0, with blowing snow adding to the insult. Windchills across the state as low as 35 below are also being predicted.

Tuesday is forecast to be a touch warmer with a high of 9, but with an overnight low to follow of minus 12.

Wednesday could see the metro area stay in subzero territory throughout, with a high of minus 1 on the docket.

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