As a fierce spring snowstorm headed into a third day of pounding Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz declared a state of emergency in 64 counties and three tribal nations.
Walz’s move Thursday night authorized the National Guard to provide emergency aid in areas struggling with storm and flooding dangers.
In northwestern Minnesota, Marshall County asked the Guard to stand by to rescue residents of Oslo as the north-flowing Red River continued to rise. Along with Freeborn, Mower and Steele counties in southeastern Minnesota, Marshall County also sought Guard aid in rescuing motorists stranded by the storm. Shelters were opening up in many towns in hard-hit areas.
Fierce winds, with gusts up to 50 mph, downed power poles and electrical lines across southern Minnesota. Major power grid damage was reported in Blue Earth, Brown, Cottonwood, Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Houston, Jackson, Le Sueur, Lyon, Mower, Murray, Nobles, Olmsted, Pipestone, Rock, Sibley, Steele, Waseca and Yellow Medicine counties, officials said. The Federated Rural Electric cooperative was asking for help from Iowa electricians to repair the heavily damaged power grid in its southern Minnesota territory.
Meanwhile, a blizzard warning remained in effect for much of western Minnesota until 10 a.m. Friday, while a winter storm warning covered a large swath of central and southern Minnesota, including the Twin Cities.
The varied precipitation — snow, ice, sleet, hail and rain — created treacherous travel conditions that spawned hundreds of crashes and multiple highway closures Thursday. Many school districts called off classes, including Minneapolis and St. Paul. At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled.
The State Patrol said that from 12:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, there were 167 crashes statewide, 16 with injuries, as well as 253 spinouts or vehicles off the road, and 11 jackknifed semis.
On Wednesday afternoon, just as the storm began, a 63-year-old woman from Mora was killed when the car she was driving was hit head-on in a three-vehicle crash on icy Hwy. 23 west of Interstate 35 in Pine County. According to the patrol, Margo R. Hatch died when her 2010 Chevrolet Impala was struck head-on by a 2002 Lexus 300 after the Lexus swerved to avoid rear-ending a third car, a 2008 Impala, that was waiting to make a left turn off Hwy. 23. Hatch’s car then swung out, hitting the older Impala.
Hatch died at the scene. The Lexus driver, Joseph Silker, 32, of Carlton, was taken to a Duluth hospital with critical injuries. The 2008 Impala driver, David Hartl, 66, of Mora, suffered minor injuries. Alcohol was not a factor and all three drivers were wearing seat belts, the patrol said.
In Bloomington, firefighters rescued a woman who lost control of her car on a ramp from Hwy. 169 to Interstate 494 and slipped into a holding pond. She was wet and cold, but otherwise fine, said Assistant Fire Chief Jay Forster.
Some of what fell Thursday wasn’t snowy white, but more tan in color. That was from the dust blown up by high winds from western Texas, the National Weather Service (NWS) said on Twitter.
By late Thursday, more than 10 inches of snow had piled up in Burnsville, the most reported in the metro area. Other amounts included 13 inches in Granite Falls, 9.8 inches in Lakeville, 9.7 in Chanhassen, 9 in Woodbury and Red Wing and 8.5 inches at the airport.
Along with the pounding the storm delivered to emerging buds and returning birds, it also delivered a blow to another sign of spring — Friday’s home Twins game. The team announced that its game against the Tigers has been postponed and will be made up May 11 as part of a split doubleheader.
Brian Luu, an English major at the University of Minnesota, said he was taken aback by the ferocity and longevity of the storm. “I thought that it would last for a few hours. It didn’t,” he said. “But then, this is Minnesota, you see.”
This may not be the last gasp of winter, said NWS meteorologist Caleb Grunzke. After a calmer weekend with highs in the 40s, 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 the shovels, “keep them handy, just in case.”