A storm to rememberby Art Hughes, Minnesota Public Radio,
Bob Kelleher, Minnesota Public Radio,
Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
Officials say residents in the Twin Cities area appeared to adjust accordingly to wintery blast. Traffic was light as cautious drivers heeded warnings to stay off the roads.
At an institution known for staying open in bad weather, University of Minnesota student Francesca Heier seemed glad to be going to class.
"They've done a pretty good job of keeping up with the sidewalks and everything. And as long as it's not blizzarding it's quite alright to walk in. They've made it pretty doable for us and buses are pretty on time. We're paying for our education so I'm glad they didn't cancel classes today, to say the least," she said.
Heier, a third-year nutrition student, joined what was expected to be a relatively small turnout of dedicated students the day after the university cancelled classes for the first time since September 11, 2001. It was the first weather related cancellation in more than 15 years.
U of M chemistry professor Lee Penn leaned her cross country skis against her office wall, her cheeks still rosy after a snowy five mile commute from south Minneapolis. "The skiing this year is pretty crappy so having an opportunity to ski into work was kind of nice."
Penn expects a quiet day in the office, all the better to get work done.
By all accounts, getting work done is not the order of the day in most places across the metro. School districts cancelled classes, state workers stayed home, and businesses hung signs saying they're closed for the day.
Drake Lightner's employer, The Travelers Company, gave employees the day off. He headed to the Town and Country Club golf course in St. Paul with his family.
"Just enjoying our snow day. Don't have work today and kids don't have school so we're just having a good time here. First time in 14 years that I've been working there that they shut it down," Lightner said.
Standing in St. Paul the new snow might be up to the middle of a person's calf. In Plymouth, it reached to people's knees. No matter the location, though, between this storm and the one less than a week ago, snow is starting to pile up.
St. Paul Public Works Director Bruce Beese says workers won't have to remove the towering roadside snow banks if temperatures rise in the coming days.
"We'll have to see what conditions are like here in the next couple of weeks and if we need to move or try to shove it back a bit more or what the conditions warrant. If it starts to melt, then we'll just leave it," Beese said.
Somewhere around 550 flights at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport were cancelled because of the storm. Operations returned to near normal by mid day Friday, but airport spokesman Pat Hogan says it will take another day or so before the the long lines of backlogged passengers ease up.
"The lines a little longer than usual, requiring a little more patience than usual. We're encouraging everybody to get out here early. But we are beginning to catch up. We'll have a third run way open shortly and we're beginning to see the end of this I think," Hogan said.
While road travel remained hazardous especially in southern and western parts of the state, snow plowing and fewer than normal drivers combined to keep major Twin Cities commuting relatively uneventful.
In Duluth, the storm packed lots of snow and powerful winds that whipped up a classic blizzard. Duluth road crews are making good progress cleaning up from a snow storm that many think will go down in people's memories.
The storm not only dumped about two feet of snow near Lake Superior, off-lake winds whipped up white-outs and head-high drifts.
Duluth's Park Point neighborhood was cut off for some 17 hours. Park Point is the neighborhood on Minnesota Point; a narrow sand bar that forms Lake Superior's far western border.
Winds hit 67 miles per hour Thursday night just as snow was its heaviest. Conditions were so bad the point was sealed off, with gates blocking traffic at Duluth's aerial lift bridge.
Late this morning, City Maintenance Supervisor Bob Troolin was there as his crews finally reached the far end of Park Point.
"We're down to the airport. We've got it open, but not for public. We got the power outages back up. My big blower is just approaching the airport; and the sand trucks coming, and the grader behind it," Troolin explained.
With the wind and snowfall greatly reduced today, city crews were able to smack through the drifts; except where things were in the way.
"We had one car underneath probably about ten feet of snow, right on the center line," he said.
Most people followed well publicized advice to stay home. But Troolin says there were still just enough people out to get in the way.
"I've had people, when we were trying to get these cars out; I had people on cross country skis following behind the loaders. I mean, give us a break. We'll get our work done. You know, we'll work long hours, but we seem to be encountering pedestrians and people who don't need to be out."
Despite the public, Troolin's crews were making progress across Duluth. Park Point reopened to public traffic this afternoon. The main roads were opened today, and the residential streets will get plowed over the weekend.
"It's going good. People are just going to have to be patient. It's going to take us a while to push all this stuff over," Troolin said.
Elsewhere in the state, stranded motorists found shelter where they could. National Guard armories in St. James and Albert Lea took in small groups of people waiting out the storm.
It was already snowing in Nebraska when David Puhl began his business calls Thursday. Puhl lives near the Twin Cities in the town of Waconia. He works for a company that makes conveyor equipment for moving feed and other agricultural products.
As he headed home through northwest Iowa the storm intensified. By the time he got to Minnesota late in the afternoon many roads were closed, barricaded. Puhl says he kept pushing his car ahead anyway.
"I tried to be one of those goofy guys that you don't have to look at these dumb road closures and tried to make it around on county roads," says Puhl. "Where I should have been smart and stayed there."
Puhl says the main reason he kept going was he wanted to see his family, including children ages two and four. The drifts were still small and he figured he could make it. The weather though was uncooperative.
"As it got later in the day the snowdrifts got higher and higher," says Puhl. "It was whiteouts a lot of the time. But you'd hit some of the snowdrifts and the snow would come up over your hood and you wouldn't know if you were still going straight or sideways or what direction you were going at that point."
Puhl says the scariest part was when he realized he had no choice but to keep driving. He figured any slowdown meant getting stuck in open country. He guided by fenceposts, electric poles and other things still visible above the deep snow.
"I'm the only one on the road at that point," says Puhl. "and you're hitting drifts that are going up to the hood of your car. The snow is causing the alternator and the lights to dim a little bit. And you know at that point you're just stupid being out there. So, St. James here was the first place that I could get off."
All the motels were full so Puhl found himself at the local National Guard armory. He says he was happy to spend the night sleeping on a cot in a roomful of strangers. Others got stuck in the storm as well, but overall state officials seem happy that many more people got off the roads.
Craig Gertsema is a MnDOT highway supervisor in southwest Minnesota. As he drives his pickup south of Marshall, he likes what he sees. Speaking by cell phone, he says he's noticed only a few cars in the ditch.
"Roads were pretty treacherous you know we closed them down and the plows weren't out. So there was some deep snow on the road. But my guys have done a really good job getting the roads clean," says Gertsema. "There's still a lot of compaction and ice on the road, but they're passable and as long as you take your time and aren't in a hurry you should be able to get where you're going."
Gertsema says the cleanup work shows just how dangerous a storm can be. As his workers starting plowing early in the morning conditions were much better than what drivers like David Puhl faced during the height of the storm. The snow had almost stopped. Blowing snow was still a problem though. Gertsema says one of his drivers lost his sense of direction in a snow cloud and went off the road.
Art Hughes began his communications career at age 12 as an operator for one of five crank telephone systems remaining in the country at the time.
Bob Kelleher joined MPR's Duluth News staff in 1990, after three years with a Duluth commercial radio station, and several years on broadcast stations in Iowa.