A snowstorm that moved across Minnesota on Friday and Saturday didn’t deliver quite as much snow as expected to the metro area, but carried dangerous flourishes, including icy roads and fierce winds.
Residents of most of the state, including the Twin Cities, woke up to 4 to 7 inches of fresh snow Saturday, a bit less than the 6 to 9 inches that had been forecast. It was enough to prompt Minneapolis and St. Paul to declare snow emergencies Saturday morning.
And the risks continued into the night as road conditions deteriorated as temps plunged toward 0, including one crash that had a portion of eastbound Interstate 94 closed for a while Saturday night near Maple Grove.
In some areas, freezing drizzle that fell late in the storm added a layer of ice, turning the snow on the ground crunchy and requiring particularly vigorous windshield scraping.
Some northern areas got greater amounts of snow, especially parts of the Arrowhead Region along Lake Superior, where lake-effect snow brought totals of 14 to 16 inches in some places. And many parts of outstate Minnesota remained under a blizzard warning late Saturday as high winds created extremely dangerous conditions on the roads.
Overall, however, “it was a very typical Minnesota [winter] storm,” said Lt. Robin Roeser of the Duluth Police Department.
Which is not to say it wasn’t dangerous. Nicole Denis, 34, of St. Paul, suffered life-threatening injuries when a vehicle she was a passenger in slid into an object along icy southbound Hwy. 35E in St. Paul at the Hwy. 52 ramp, according to the State Patrol. The driver, Patrick Francis Bradley, 64, of Apple Valley, was not injured. Bradley was wearing a seat belt but Denis was not, the patrol said.
Statewide, the patrol responded to 559 crashes, 61 of them with injuries, from 5 a.m. Friday to 4:30 p.m. Saturday. An additional 532 vehicles spun out or slid off the road, and 21 semitrailer trucks jackknifed.
Still, during the height of the storm, there were fewer accidents than might normally be expected, said Lt. Gordon Shank of the State Patrol. “I’m hoping the reason is that people heeded the [patrol’s] message” to stay home, he said. Roeser, too, noted that traffic was probably lighter on a Friday evening than it might have been midweek.
But the number of crashes and spinouts ballooned on Saturday, when snow had stopped falling but many roads remained icy and wind-whipped. The National Weather Service reported sustained winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour and gusts of up to 50 mph causing whiteout conditions in some areas. The Twin Cities had 15 to 25 mph winds with gusts of 35 to 40 mph.
In the country, fierce winds
In the open country of southern and eastern Minnesota, the wind caused especially difficult driving conditions.
The Dodge County Sheriff’s Office issued a no-travel advisory Saturday afternoon when high winds and blowing snow made driving conditions “extremely dangerous.” The county pulled its snowplows off the roads until 5 a.m. Sunday due to safety concerns.
Several agencies issued public safety reminders. The state Department of Transportation warned drivers not to try to pass slow-moving plows, which can create a dangerous “snow cloud.”
“Be patient and give them room to work,” MNDOT spokeswoman Kirsten Klein said.
Turning on automatic headlights during daylight storms is important, too. “We shouldn’t have to keep reminding people, yet here we are,” the agency tweeted. “If it’s snowing or if there is blowing snow, turn your headlights on. It’s the law!”
And in the category of behavior that really shouldn’t require an explicit warning, Duluth police stopped a vehicle around bar-closing time Friday that was pulling a man on skis down a street.
“May seem like fun but [it] is very dangerous,” police tweeted. “Leave the skiing for the trails and hills.”
Rain and snow may return later this week
The rest of the week looks pretty snow-free, aside from possibly a few flurries or light snow showers, said Joe Calderone, senior forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Chanhassen office.
In the metro area, Sunday will bring a high of just 6 above, with northwest winds of 5 to 10 mph and windchill values as low as 17 below, according to the NWS. Sunday night’s low will be around 1 above.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be mostly sunny in the Twin Cities, with a high near 12 and calmer west winds.
By Tuesday, clouds will return and the temperature will rise to the low 20s, the NWS said. Snow and even rain may return Wednesday and Thursday, with just snow possible Friday and Saturday.