It's a double scoop

  • Article by: Bill McAuliffe
  • Star Tribune
  • March 1, 2007 - 10:33 PM

The other overshoe dropped on Minnesota Thursday, clobbering the state with heavy snow and high winds and leading Gov. Tim Pawlenty to mobilize the National Guard to help with emergencies.

The slower-moving and nastier big brother of last weekend's storm prompted highway shutdowns and early closings for public and private employers, shopping centers and public schools on Thursday. Even the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus was closed entirely for the first time since the Halloween blizzard of 1991.

"We just had to do this," said university Provost Tom Sullivan, noting that if students, faculty and staff hadn't been sent home early, they may not have gotten home at all.

Sullivan said he expected to announce at about 4 a.m. a decision on whether the campus would reopen today.

St. Paul public school officials announced Thursday night that schools would be closed today. Minneapolis schools didn't have classes scheduled.

Officials at hundreds of other districts across the southern half of the state, where 140 districts were closed for all or part of Thursday, were also expected to decide this morning whether to open. Many districts in northern Minnesota were almost certain to be closed today as the storm intensified there.

Snow emergencies were called Thursday in Minneapolis, St. Paul and many other cities.

State and regional high school championship tournaments were being frantically rescheduled after postponements Thursday. Two boys' sectional hockey finals, expected to draw about 5,000 fans to Mariucci Arena Thursday, were rescheduled to less-than-prime-time slots Saturday morning.

Statewide blanket

The storm, which entered southwestern Minnesota overnight Thursday along with blizzard warnings, dropped 12 inches through parts of the metro area by 9 p.m., with at least 2 to 6 more expected by midday today before the storm crawls on to northern Minnesota.

Minnesota National Guard Lt. Col. Kevin Olson said the guard had already been asked to open armories in Albert Lea and Owatonna to house stranded travelers.

Duluth already had a foot by early evening, though measurements were tough with east winds gusting to 65 miles per hour. It was also thundering.

"It can't get much worse than that," said National Weather Service meteorologist Byron Paulson.

The North Shore area was expecting another foot of snow by tonight. Schools and county offices in Two Harbors, up the shore from Duluth, will be closed today.

The Weather Service in Duluth encouraged residents to keep snow cleared away from their homes' vents and intakes to keep circulation systems working.

In Hutchinson, west of Minneapolis, 10 to 12 inches had fallen by dinnertime Thursday, with a strong wind whipping from the east. Shops and other businesses began closing in the afternoon, and by 6 p.m. even the 24-hour Wal-mart had closed its doors with no definite time to reopen.

On the roads

"I can't talk real long; I'm plowing," said Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman Kent Barnard, who has plowed 14 years for MnDOT.

There did not seem to be much ice under this new snow, Barnard said, and the salt was working well with the relatively high temperatures to keep roads wet, rather than icy, in most spots.

Still, he offered one piece of advice for today that could help.

"It's a great day to do telecommuting -- you know, work from home," Barnard said.

At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, workers put out 450 sleeping mats for stranded passengers who may have needed them, though a spokesman said he doubted that the numbers would go that high.

Thursday morning, about 400 flights had been canceled across the 15 major airlines that use the airport, said Pat Hogan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission. He expected the number of stranded travelers to be "relatively small."

Northwest Airlines canceled 173 of its 1,203 scheduled flights, many of them out of the Twin Cities.

The MAC anticipated that it could keep two runways in operation Thursday night at the airport.

Sun Country Airlines CEO Shaun Nugent said the low-fare carrier had delayed some flights but had not canceled any.

Metro Transit said it might have to consider changing to emergency routes for buses today.

The agency also was intending to keep two to three light- rail trains running throughout the night, though without riders between 1:30 and 4:20 a.m., to keep the tracks clear of ice and snow, said spokesman Bob Gibbons. Each rail car comes with a small plow to clear off the tracks.

Snow crime

In Minneapolis, the noontime snowfall provided the setting for a weather-related crime -- the theft of a snowblower outside a low-income housing complex.

Victorio Ortega, 25, told police that he was shoveling snow around the Hope Community campus in the Phillips neighborhood when two people took the snowblower from a trailer parked along Portland Avenue. When he confronted them, he said, one of the suspects threatened him with a knife.

The thieves then took off, police said.

Everywhere, problems

On Thursday, MnDOT closed Interstate Hwy. 35 from Albert Lea to the Iowa border and Interstate Hwy. 90 from Albert Lea to the South Dakota border. In western Minnesota, MnDOT pulled snowplows off the road because of strong winds and heavy snow, and said that highways in seven counties would be closed until further notice, with more closings likely.

Two people were killed when their car overturned on a slick road in North Dakota.

With as much as 18 inches of snow expected in parts of Iowa, Gov. Chet Culver issued a disaster declaration, clearing the way for state aid.

But in spite of the major travel problems, the show went on at Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. "The Glass Menagerie" played as scheduled to about 200 people; nearly 500 canceled.

Staff writers Anthony Lonetree, Joy Powell, Tim Harlow, Liz Fedor and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646 •

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