Winter makes a mid-March appearanceby Greta Cunningham, Minnesota Public Radio
An early spring snowstorm hit the Twin Cities and southeastern Minnesota Monday, dumping up to 20 inches of snow in some areas, snarling rush-hour traffic, forcing school closings, delaying flights and knocking out power to tens of thousands of Xcel Energy customers.
St. Paul, Minn. — Lt. Mark Peterson and other State Patrol troopers spent a busy morning dealing with hundreds of traffic accidents in the Twin Cities metro area.
"Unfortunately, in Minnesota we were re-introduced to winter today," said Peterson.
Peterson says so far there are no reports of any fatal crashes due to the storm. He says the No. 1 priority for troopers is to deal with accidents. Peterson says clearing an accident site helps motorists and assists MnDOT snowplows that are trying to clear the freeways.
Peterson says Interstate 94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul had several crashes Monday morning.
"I believe we had a number of commercial vehicles that spun out -- some semis that had jackknifed, completely blocking the roadway," said Peterson. "When you have icy road conditions and packed snow, that's going to make traction extremely difficult. I think anybody who was caught up in that spent a few hours on the freeway while they tried to clear that -- because it can be problematic."
Peterson says at this point the State Patrol does not have an accurate count of the number of accidents.
"The trooper is not going to be spending a lot of time entering a whole bunch of data into his computer," said Peterson. "He's going to be working on helping people and getting onto the next one, to make sure they get the attention they need."
Commuting by car was difficult, with some drivers needing three to four hours to get to work. But traveling by light rail or bus was also a problem. Metro Transit says 663 buses were out on the roads during the morning rush, and at one point 120 buses were stuck in the snow. That's about 18 percent of the fleet.
Metro Transit spokeswoman Julie Johanson says bus drivers reported the roads were "greasy and very slippery." She says 11 tow trucks were busy helping stranded buses.
"They oftentimes had to pull the bus out of whatever snow difficulty they were in. We brought in additional supervisors in our transit control center and on the street, to assist the operators to try to get the buses back on schedule," said Johanson.
Sara Isbell, who works at Ameriprise in downtown Minneapolis, agrees that it was a difficult bus ride to work. She stood at her bus stop in southwestern Minneapolis for 45 minutes.
"We had a very full bus. We were actually turning people away, much to many's dismay," said Isbell.
Isbell says as her bus traveled down 50th St. in Minneapolis she noticed several buses getting stuck in the snow. Her bus route eventually took her on 35-W heading north to Minneapolis. She says the trip was slow, but it was hard to tell what was happening outside of the bus.
"It was actually kind of hard to see out of the bus because we were so crowded," Isbell said. "It was pretty slushy out there."
Metro Transit's Julie Johanson says some buses were stuck for several hours, and there were also delays on the light rail lines. But the light rail delays were largely due to drivers.
"A couple of people ran into the crossing guards, and if they broke a crossing guard we had to signal by hand," said Johanson. "That caused the trains to not maintain their schedules. They ran, but they were off schedule for a period of time."
Johanson says most of the light rail trains were running just a few minutes behind schedule -- but some were running about 20 minutes late.
Craig Edwards, forecaster with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, says the snow hit in a series of waves. The first came in the early morning hours, which brought snow to most of the metro area and up to 20 inches of snow in portions of west central Wisconsin.
"We've seen 15-16 inches out of Hastings, Red Wing, on over into Clear Lake and towards the Rice Lake, Wisconsin area. Then lighter amounts as you go to the west and north of the Twin Cities," said Edwards. "Six inches out towards New Ulm, and in the general area of the Twin Cities anywhere from 6-12 inches."
Edwards says the strong weather system moving through the nation's mid-section was packed with a lot of energy. It brought tornadoes and severe thunderstorms to states south of Minnesota. It also made the snow wet and heavy, because it was filled with moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.
The heavy snow knocked out power to 53,000 Xcel Energy customers in the Twin Cities. Xcel spokesman Paul Adelman said as of 3 p.m. Monday, crews had restored power to all but about 12,000 customers.
Adelman says the bulk of the outages were in the western Twin Cities. He says this power outage is a challenge for Xcel crews, because there are many small pockets of people who lost power.
"This is a typical late winter, early spring storm. The snow itself is very wet and it's very heavy, and when that snow lands on the trees it weighs the branches down, or it might break some of the branches. Those branches land on power lines, and that's what really causes the outages," said Adelman.
Craig Edwards from the National Weather Service says people should keep their shovels handy. More snow is the forecast for later this week.
"The spring snowstorms that have been typical in the past in Minnesota, with the tournament-type snows, are right on schedule for 2006," said Edwards.
Snow emergencies have been declared in both St. Paul and Minneapolis.
- All Things Considered, 03/13/2006, 5:48 p.m.