Blizzard conditions freeze travel in much of Minnesota as holiday weekend commences

Severe winds that hit nearly every corner of Minnesota on Friday caused whiteouts that prompted state and county agencies to close thousands of miles of highways.

Instead, most of the roads were empty as snowstorms in excess of 50 mph reduced visibility and pushed snow back into cleared lanes. Several counties in southern Minnesota have removed plows from roads until conditions improve.

Interstate 90, which connects Albert Lea to the South Dakota border, and Interstate 35, which runs from the Albert Lea station to the Iowa border, were too dangerous to travel on, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. . Iowa has closed Interstate 35 from Mason City to just south of Ames.

Major state highways from Madison in western Minnesota to cities such as Worthington in the south and Mankato, St. James, New Ulm, Windham, Winthrop, Blue Earth and Fairmont in the east are also closed, reducing visibility to less than a tenth of a mile. There was also a time. MnDOT said.

Widespread and prolonged whiteouts in frigid conditions caused numerous drivers to stall or land in trenches in southern and south-central Minnesota. Troopers had to move several vehicles out of a ditch along the highway. 71 and 68 are Redwood He said south and west of the Falls. State Patrol Troy Christianson.

“First responders are inundated. mobilized to assist the driver’s rescue.

Meeker counties in central Minnesota and Freeborn, Jackson, More, and Blueearth counties in southern Minnesota removed plows from roads Friday afternoon.

Travel was discouraged in much of the western, southern and central parts of the state, where blizzard warnings were in effect by Saturday morning. Even in the southern Metro counties of Dakota and Scott, winds consistently howling between 35 and 50 miles per hour were severe, even when included in blizzard warnings.

Another MnDOT spokesperson, Anne Meyer, said, “If you stall, spin out, or crash, you create your own emergency situation.” That’s why there isn’t.”

Light traffic on Interstate 90 led to few people going out in Blue Earth as it was a slow morning at Farmer’s Daughter’s Kitchen, about 40 miles west of Albert Lea. Owner Becky Steier said the eatery just off the highway is usually packed for breakfast on Fridays.

“We had some customers this morning, but it’s quiet now,” she said. .

Hannah Johnson, property supervisor at the Quality Inn just down the road from the Fairmont, said only a handful of travelers book to get out of the snowstorm. Likewise, while she was shoveling snow, she only saw a few cars on the road.

Johnson said he didn’t mind the blizzard. “It’s almost Christmas, and it’s going to snow like this.”

Arctic-like weather was felt along the north shore of Lake Superior. The Grand Marais had its second strongest gust ever recorded for the harbor on Friday morning, hitting 74 mph, according to the Duluth Weather Service.

According to MnDOT, slippery conditions at Twin Cities resulted in crashes and spinouts throughout the day. By Thursday through Friday morning, state patrols responded to more than 650 collisions and spinouts statewide.

Air travelers were hit for the second day in a row as nearly 5,000 flights were canceled across the country by Friday afternoon. in Minneapolis-St. According to his flight tracking website, there were 157 canceled flights to and from Paul International Airport by 3 p.m.

The Amtrak Scrub Empire Builder runs between Chicago and Seattle through Sunday. The train stops at the Union Depot in St. Paul. Metro Transit buses were running, but many were late.

Travelers weren’t the only ones to experience setbacks. Officials from UPS, Amazon and FedEx said bad weather could delay Christmas deliveries.

Philip Ekman, owner of Albertville-based Platinum Courier Service, said the 20 drivers he employs were not delayed by the weather.

“For the most part they’re pretty hardy guys,” he said.

However, heavy snow and extreme cold have prompted customers to scale back deliveries that are not considered essential and may be delayed, Ekman said.

As for Christmas gifts that need to be delivered on time, Ekman said Platinum isn’t slowing down. One of his drivers got an expensive watch on Minneapolis Street. He said he was on his way to Paul International Airport to deliver gifts in Michigan.

With extreme cold conditions expected to continue into next week, CenterPoint Energy and Xcel Energy are asking customers to consider temporarily lowering their thermostat settings to conserve energy and save on utility bills. did. Both utilities said extreme cold weather in much of the country has caused natural gas market prices to rise in the short term.

“Consider conserving natural gas in the coming days as wholesale costs are passed directly to customers,” read a statement from Xcel Energy.

CenterPoint Energy’s recommended settings are 65 degrees during the day and 60 degrees while sleeping or on the go.

Northwest winds picked up speed through Friday, with gusts approaching 45 to 50 mph over the Twin Cities and southwestern Minnesota.

Temperatures should drop to 45 to 25 degrees Saturday morning, bringing more dangerous wind chills. Cold Wind Warnings for metropolitan areas and the western and southern halves of Minnesota will remain in effect until noon, as will Cold Wind Warnings for eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

Sunday will be a sunny Christmas morning with temperatures in the single digits and possible snowfall into the evening. By midweek, a thaw could mean Wednesday and Thursday highs above freezing.

Staff writers Trey Mewes and Burl Gilyard contributed to this report.

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