Winter's siege continues with road closures, outages

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 21, 2014 - 7:14 AM

 After digging out from one of the biggest snowfalls this season, Minnesotans are waking up to delayed school starts, canceled airline flights, slick roads and a nasty morning commute.

At 4 a.m. Friday, the Minnesota Department of Transportation classified metro area highways as hazardous, which means no travel is advised. Many roads remained closed in southern Minnesota, including southbound I-35 from Owatonna to the Iowa border.

Metro area commuters will find travel difficult, according to traffic reports. Some roads still will be snow-covered and gusty winds are hampering visibility.

“People need to leave early and take their time,” said MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht.

The brunt of the storm hit late Thursday afternoon, snarling traffic, closing afternoon and evening school activities, canceling some evening college classes and prompting a string of snow emergencies across the metro area.

The storm dumped 10 inches or more of heavy, backbreaking snow in some areas of the west metro and close to a foot in the east metro, according to the National Weather Service. Among the totals, inches: Dayton, 11; Maplewood 11; Chanhassen, 8.6; Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, 8.4. 

The biggest snow amounts were recorded in northeastern Minnesota, with more than 13 inches in Chisholm, nearly 15 inches in Holyoke and more than 17 inches in Lake Nichols.

Snow continued to fall throughout much of the state overnight, making already treacherous roadways even more dangerous. While motorists slid, power lines and tree limbs began falling under the weight of the heavy snow.

Nearly 28,000 metro area customers of Xcel Energy and 400 of Dakota Electric were without power for several hours overnight, as workers were hampered by the weather in making repairs.

More outages could occur as the winds increase, Xcel spokeswoman Patti Nystuen said. “We’ve been planning for this and have extra crews ready,” she said.

At 12:30 a.m. Friday, a statement posted to Dakota Electric's website promised no immediate relief: "Those out of power should be prepared for an outage lasting through the night and into the day on Friday."

The Minnesota State Patrol closed southbound I-35 from Owatonna to the Iowa border shortly after 1 a.m. Friday due to multiple vehicle accidents and stranded vehicles.

The shutdown came at the request of the Iowa Department of Transportation, according to a statement from MnDOT, which warned that motorists caught traveling on closed roads could face fines up to $1,000 or a 90-day jail sentence, or both.

A “no travel” advisory remains in effect for all of southeastern Minnesota because of hazardous driving conditions, including blowing snow, icy patches and reduced visibility. The advisory is for Rice, Steele, Dodge, Mower, Freeborn, Goodhue, Olmsted, Fillmore, Houston, Winona and Wabasha counties.

White-out conditions in the southwest and south-central part of the state forced MnDOT officials to pull plows off some roads Thursday night and advise no travel for motorists.

“I suspect this will be the biggest snowfall of the winter to date,” Star Tribune meteorologist Paul Douglas said. “Plan on significant delays and cancellations Friday morning, with travel slowly improving during the day.”

The State Patrol reported 174 crashes between 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, including one with a fatality, and nearly 400 vehicles that left the road or spun out.

Late starts for schools

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