DULUTH – As the snow and wind blew out of town Sunday morning, the city’s front doors opened to the sound of shovels, snowblowers and, every so often, snowmobiles on city streets.
Until Monday morning, there was no other way to get around.
As Minnesota dug out of a weekend-long winter storm that turned holiday travel plans into nightmares, Duluthians had to dig the deepest.
Nearly 22 inches of snow fell in a blizzard that left parts of the city “completely impassable” and shut down Interstate 35 south of town during the storm.
The 21.7 inches that piled up by noon Sunday made it the ninth-largest snowfall over two days on record, said Justin Schultz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Duluth.
“This is definitely a storm that has some historical significance,” he said. “We’re not talking the caliber of the Halloween 1991 storm that dropped 32, 33 inches of snow on Duluth, but still definitely significant and with plenty of impacts, especially in terms of travel.”
No storm-related injuries or crashes were reported, but plenty of foolhardy drivers had to abandon their vehicles after getting stuck in snowdrifts, creating an eerie scene in the post-storm quiet.
Plow drivers were hampered by the number of vehicles stuck on the roads, said Pippi Mayfield, a Department of Transportation spokeswoman for the Duluth area.
A Pizza Hut delivery driver who was late going to work Sunday morning took matters into his own hands, charging his minivan down the road a few feet, shoveling the road clear, and charging again. After about an hour, he had made it out of residential streets and onto W. 3rd Street toward his destination.
Others relied on more creative commutes — some Essentia Health physicians skied and snowshoed to work, while a behavioral health technician rode a snowmobile.
Duluth officials asked residents to stay off the roads until further notice, and that notice came about 7 a.m. Monday, when the city lifted its travel advisory and said Park Point in the harbor was open again to visitors. Other streets nearby also were reopened.
Even so, the notice said that the city “encourages the public to use discretion when traveling.”
City plow drivers fired up their trucks about 2 a.m. Monday and have been tackling main roads before turning their attention to residential streets and alleys.
Duluth Public Schools, the University of Minnesota Duluth and the College of St. Scholastica are all closed Monday.
“The streets are impassable and the major thing is to get people to stay home,” said police spokeswoman Ingrid Hornibrook. “It’s really taxing on our resources that are already stretched thin.”
Duluth is still requiring vehicles to be moved to the other side of the street, but only after plows make a first pass. Tickets will not be given to cars on unplowed streets.
Sea stack destroyed
Winds gusted up to 50 mph off Lake Superior during the blizzard, wiping out an iconic rock formation off the shore of Tettegouche State Park. Its arch had collapsed in 2010, and the weekend storm washed away the remaining rock formation.
Photographers mourned the loss of the Lake Superior-carved sea stack on social media Sunday.
The storm also caused flooding in Canal Park and knocked down branches and power lines. Until Monday morning, only Park Point residents were allowed across the Aerial Lift Bridge as the storm’s fallout continues to subside.
Kate Horvath, an actor and executive recruiter who lives on Park Point, managed to find the storm’s fun side after her power went out on Saturday afternoon. She and her husband decided to bundle up and go for a walk to check out the wave damage and snow piles.
They and several of their neighbors ended up at Hoops Brewing in Canal Park, one of the few places that still had electricity at the time.
“Everybody was pretty festive,” she said. “It was packed.”
Power was restored about 2½ hours later, she said.
Horvath went out again Sunday, but on skis. She made frequent stops to chat with neighbors who were out shoveling.
“We know so many of our neighbors,” she said. “Everyone was cheering when I went by.”
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Snow piled up statewide
Across Minnesota, the NWS reported a wide range of snow depths over 48 hours, from 3½ inches at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, to 4.8 inches in St. Cloud, to 5½ inches in Chanhassen.
The State Patrol reported hundreds of crashes and spinouts.
Aitkin County roads had 12 to 18 inches of snow by the time the storm moved out, and even plowed roads were “snow-packed, slippery and subject to drifting due to blowing snow,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Mankato put a downtown snow emergency in place starting at 10 p.m. Sunday that will last until Monday morning, when parking on the streets is banned. During that time, plows and trucks will get the snow cleared.
To accommodate vehicles, the city said free parking will be made available at the Mankato Place and Civic Center ramps, and people can park in their yards if they wish.
Conditions were better in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas Sunday, where another 1 to 3 inches of snow fell with winds gusting up to 30 mph.
By Monday, the weather in the metro should be mostly sunny but colder, with highs in the lower 20s.
In Duluth, Schultz of the NWS said the weather should be mostly dry with highs just below freezing for the rest of the week: “Decent conditions to allow people to dig out.”
Staff writer Pam Louwagie contributed to this report.