Two days after wildfires destroyed 11 houses in Karlstad, Minn., and menaced much of northwestern Minnesota, snow closed schools, limtied travel and has already led to a homecoming parade cancellation.
Wet, heavy snow pulled down power lines and temporarily cut service to 6,500 Xcel Energy customers in the Moorhead area early Thursday, the Associated Press reported. The utility says service was restored by mid-morning.
As much as 14 inches of snow was expected to fall through Friday. Rain mixed with heavy snow and blustery winds reduced visibility to near white-out conditions at East Grand Forks. At Greenbush, 8 inches of snow forced the closing of the field office of the Interagency Fire Center that had been monitoring wildfires across northwest Minnesota since last weekend.
In Thief River Falls, Friday's homecoming parade had also been cancelled. In Karlstad school was cancelled for the third straight day (the last two were due to fire dangers).
"The snow is a problem of its own, but it's been a saving grace in Karlstad," said Kittson County Sheriff Kenny Hultgren
The rain and snow have acted as a dramatic, if possibly temporary, fire retardant across the region.
"Weather conditions are giving firefighters a much-needed tool to make headway on these current fires," said Jean Goad, spokeswoman for the Interagency Fire Center, based in Grand Rapids. "Safety is a concern out there now, though. Roads are slippery and travel is difficult."
Goad said the region has been so dry that, although rain or snowmelt will sink into soil, benefits could be shortlived if dry conditions return.
At Karlstad, the nursing home, evacuated when fires approached Tuesday, remained closed, and it was unclear whether cleaners would be able to get through the snow to clean up smoke damage. Executive director Emily Straw indicated the center might not be reopened until Monday.
Hultgren said rain turned to snow before dawn and the mixture that fell through the day was a heavy slush. But he expected problems with roads and power lines as temperatures dropped through the evening.
The Grand Forks office of the National Weather Service was having problems gathering snowfall depth reports because, due to power outages, many automatic reporting devices weren't working. Staffers were resorting to telephoning observers for informaion, said meteorologist Jim Kaiser.
NWS storm warning map: http://www.startribune.com/newsgraphics/135927633.html
Weather details: www.crh.noaa.gov/news/display_cmsstory.php
Travel details: http://hb.511mn.org/main.jsf