Snow Causing Dangerous Travel Conditions in Southern Minnesota

12:57 PM, Dec 21, 2005   |    comments
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Perhaps the last blast of winter settled over southern Minnesota Friday, forcing dozens of schools to close, canceling more than 260 flights out of the Twin Cities and blanketing some towns with well over a foot of snow. Rochester experienced its snowiest day on record. The 16.9 inches that fell at the airport beat the old mark of 15.4 inches recorded Jan. 22, 1982. Downtown Rochester got 17.5 inches. "South-central Minnesota was paralyzed," said Jim Kline, who was rounding up snowfall totals at the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen. The heaviest snowfall was in the southern counties, including 21 inches in Kiester in Faribault County, 18 inches in Preston in Fillmore County, 17.3 inches in St. James in Watonwan County and at Byron in Olmsted County, 16.5 inches in Albert Lea in Freeborn County, 8 inches in Mankato in Blue Earth County and 4.6 inches at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Forecasters said local accumulations of up to two feet were possible, especially among a line from Austin to Winona and on to Black River Falls, Wis. "This storm system is really stuck," Kline said. KARE 11 reporter Boyd Huppert has been in southern Minnesota all day. To see his report, click on the links above, to the left. The storm prompted the state to shut down Interstate 90 between Blue Earth and Luverne in the western half of the state, said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. He said troopers in the area were reporting blowing and drifting snow and near whiteout conditions. "We are advising no travel in the southern part of the state," he said. For motorists who must travel, he advised they bring a winter survival kit "because it will be a while before somebody can come and get them" if they go into a ditch. Many people did end up in the ditch. State Patrol spokesman Nathan Bowie said the Patrol had received reports of 277 vehicles had gone off the road by 5 p.m. Friday, mostly in the southern part of the state. In addition, 266 crashes with property damage and 46 more with injuries were reported to the Patrol by 5 p.m. Most of those crashes were in the Twin Cities area. There were no fatalities or reports of serious injuries, Bowie said. Authorities in Mower County reported that even tow trucks were getting stuck in the snow. Schools were closed in many districts, including Austin, Albert Lea, Rochester, Winona and Fairbault. Riverland Community College canceled classes and other activities on its campuses in Austin, Albert Lea and Owatonna. At the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, plows could keep only one of the two runways open at a time, said Metropolitan Airports Commission spokeswoman Jennifer Bowring-McDonough. At least 268 flights were canceled by late afternoon, most of them by Mesaba and Pinnacle airlines, the regional affiliate of Northwest Airlines, which canceled 23 mainline flights. The storm made for a tough time for drivers, too. "It's pretty white, visibility is not too far," said El Rics, manager of the Trails Travel Center near the intersection of Intestates 35 and 90, as he looked out his window. He said a few travelers were driving through the storm in the afternoon, but most were "pulling in and parking down" in the remaining plowed space in his parking lot. The travel center, with gas station, restaurant and gift shop was filling up. "We've got plenty of facilities, but mostly they're watching the weather channel on television," he said. "They hang around, but they don't buy." Freeborn County Sheriff Mark Harig said the weather was so bad the county decided to pull its plows off the streets about 3:30 p.m. because they couldn't keep the roads open. Visibility was so bad within Albert Lea that it was hard to spot buildings three blocks away, he said. The snowplows had left behind a six-foot pile of snow between the lanes of the street outside his window. Schools and most other activities in town were canceled, he said, so he found it "crazy" how many people are driving around. "It's been one accident after another. It has been a very busy today." No one was seriously hurt. He also said drivers also weren't slowing down much and many went skidding over glaze ice at high-traffic intersections. "You would think that they forget they live in Minnesota." By Chris Williams, Associated Press Writer

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