Second surge of wind gusts whip up snow; I-94 reopens

  • Article by: SUSAN HOGAN, PAUL WALSH and TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: January 16, 2014 - 5:29 PM

Winds topping 50 mph and heavy snow swept across northwestern Minnesota, causing many vehicles to slide off roads and prompting the closure of several major highways.

Dangerous winds and heavy snow swept into northwestern Minnesota on Thursday, and blustery conditions also are having an impact in the Twin Cities.

Travel remained difficult at best across northwestern and west central Minnesota with visibility as low as 10 feet in open unprotected areas due to blowing snow, said Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol.

On eastbound I-94 where visibility was between 200 feet and a quarter-mile, at least three semitrailer trucks jackknifed. Two of them were between Alexandria and Osakis, Minn., causing MnDOT to shut down that portion of the road from mid-morning to early afternoon. The highway reopened shortly before 1:30 p.m.

Just before noon, wind gusts of 52 mph were recorded at Morris, and 49 mph at Appleton.

Earlier, at least two northwestern Minnesota highways shut down by 3 a.m. because of poor visibility: Hwy. 2 from near East Grand Forks to Crookston and Hwy. 200 between the North Dakota state line and U.S. 75 near Halstad. Both reopened around 10 a.m., but both were closed again by early afternoon.

“We are advising no unnecessary travel,” Grabow said.

School districts across much of western and southern Minnesota were taking heed and playing yet another snow day card, either canceling or delaying classes for two hours. Among those keeping the kids home and buses idled: Alexandria, Blue Earth, Fergus Falls and Windom.

Also packing it in Thursday were the University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University, Minnesota State Moorhead and Concordia College in Moorhead.

In addition, schools in the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted district to the west of the Twin Cities called it quits early because of the severe weather, with all schools dismissing students by 10 a.m.

Winds were roaring in every part of Minnesota after sunrise, from Eden Prairie with gusts of 44 miles per hour to Mora with 35 mph gusts to Eveleth on the Iron Range feeling the effects of 32 mph winds.

The National Weather Service said that winds in southwest Minnesota will increase again this afternoon with a secondary surge of 40 to 50 mph gusts.

Preparation ahead of Friday’s outdoor college hockey games at the University of Minnesota football stadium came to a halt Thursday. “Due to high winds, today’s snow removal at TCF Bank Stadium has been postponed,” said a notice from the school.

For the early part of the rush hour, commuters in the metro faced fewer hassles than expected as temperatures remained above freezing, allowing overnight snow to melt and leaving roads mainly wet. That initially meant few crashes and spinouts. But conditions worsened about 7:45 a.m. when high winds swept in.

By 9 a.m., Twin Cities temperatures across the board were back below freezing, while winds gusting to 40 mph were measured in the east metro.

It was unclear whether the blustery conditions contributed to a jackknifed semitrailer truck that caused a major delay on northbound Hwy. 52 at 117th Street in Inver Grove Heights. Traffic was stacked up a couple miles to County Road 42 in Rosemount.

The metro area will see temperatures plummet throughout the day to an overnight low near zero. The sun may shine Friday, but the high is only expected to reach the low teens.

The National Weather Service issued several blizzard warnings leading up to the western Minnesota storm. Motorists were told of possible whiteout conditions created by heavy wind gusts and blowing snow.

Shortly after 3 a.m., two Kennedy, Minn., firefighters rescued a motorist who became stranded on Hwy. 11 after running off the road and then running out of gas, according to Tim Nordine, a jailer at the Kittson County Sheriff’s Office.

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