The entire town of Lyle, Minn., remained without power Friday, and the mayor says it may take the weekend or even longer before electricity is back on.
Residents in the town south of Austin were among thousands of people in the dark across southern Minnesota after snow, ice and fierce winds Wednesday and Thursday snapped hundreds of power poles and trees and inflicted heavy damage to the power grid.
As of Friday evening, 15,000 Minnesotans lacked power because of downed power poles, according to the Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) division of the state’s Department of Public Safety.
“We are preparing for the long-term,” said Lyle Mayor Gary Harrison.
Outages continued all across Mower County as crews worked through the night to restore service. More than 130 soldiers from the Austin-based 224th Transportation Company were activated to assist local law enforcement to direct traffic off roads blocked by power lines and poles, said National Guard spokeswoman Blair Heusdens.
Soldiers deployed after Gov. Tim Walz issued an emergency declaration late Thursday were sent to five places around Mower County, particularly along hard-hit Hwy. 56, where 36 poles were down between Interstate 90 and the Rose Creek area, according to Deputy Sheriff Mark May.
The Waltham area north of I-90 on Hwy. 56 also was hard hit. “We’re still trying to grasp where all the lines are down,” May said.
In Lyle, home to about 550 people, the lack of power meant another day off school. Churches, gas stations and the grocery store were closed. City Hall was open, but only because an agricultural construction company donated a generator to provide power. The building has a restroom, a shower and cooking facilities for anybody who needs shelter.
“It’s neighbor taking care of neighbor,” Harrison said. “We’re just a little community hanging in there.”
Harrison said power might not be back on until late Sunday or Monday, “but we have our fingers crossed it could be sooner.”
Operations at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport were still seeing the effects of the storm after hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled on Thursday. On Friday, 22 flights were delayed or canceled, according to airport spokesman Patrick Hogan.
“It might take a day or two for everyone booked on flights canceled yesterday to get to their destinations,” he said.
Motorists, too, were still feeling the misery Friday. The Minnesota Department of Transportation reopened Interstate 94 between Osakis, Minn., and the North Dakota state line after it was closed overnight, but the freeway was littered with crashes and jackknifed semitrailer trucks on Thursday. Travel remained difficult across northern and northwestern Minnesota.
On Friday night, HSEM issued a summary of flooding conditions around the state.
Sixty-five counties and three tribal nations remain affected by flooding or ice jams, and 38 counties, along with the city of St. Paul, have declared local emergencies: Big Stone, Blue Earth, Chippewa, Clay, Cottonwood, Faribault, Freeborn, Grant, Jackson, Kittson, Lac qui Parle, Le Sueur, Lyon, Marshall, Martin, McLeod, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Ramsey, Red Lake, Renville, Rock, Scott, Sibley, Stevens, Swift, Traverse, Wadena, Waseca, Washington, Watonwan, Wilkin, Wright and Yellow Medicine.
Counties and state agencies are sending preliminary damage estimates to HSEM, which will determine whether to request state or federal disaster aid, the agency said.
In the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks area, the Red River has crested, while waters continue to rise farther north.
“The precipitation that has fallen the past two days that will last through tomorrow will slow the falling of river level[s] and lead to rises over the next several days,” the agency said in its daily report.
Meanwhile, the flooding situation eased a bit in Red Wing, where a flood warning for the Mississippi River was canceled Friday.
As the storm ended, snow totals told the story. The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Chanhassen picked up 10 inches of snow, while Madison, Minn., saw 20 inches, St. Cloud recorded 7.3 inches, and Eau Claire, Wis., saw 11.3 inches. At the airport, 8.9 inches of snow pushed the season total to 75.8 inches. That has made the 2018-19 winter the 11th-snowiest on record — so far. The snowiest was the winter of 1983-84 with 98.6 inches.
Aside from a few flurries Friday, the weekend looks to be dry. Temperatures in the metro area will reach into the low 40s under cloudy skies on Saturday and upper 40s with sunny skies on Sunday, the NWS said.
This may not be the last gasp of winter, said NWS meteorologist Caleb Grunzke. After a calmer weekend, the weather pattern will turn active again over the next couple of weeks. Will there be more snow?
“It will all depend on if Minnesota is on the warm or cold side of any storms,” Grunzke said. As for shovels, “keep them handy, just in case.”
Staff writers Matt McKinney and Tim Harlow contributed to this report.