Late-winter blizzard shuts down Duluthby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio,
Dan Kraker, Minnesota Public Radio,
Curtis Gilbert, Minnesota Public Radio
DULUTH, Minn. — Duluth and surrounding areas are under a blizzard warning until 6 p.m. today, due to a major winter storm that shut down the city for the day and grounded planes at the Duluth International Airport.
Snow flurries caused whiteout conditions and the Minnesota Department of Transportation advises no travel in that area, plus Carlton County and Pine County.
Blizzard conditions prevented planes from taking off or landing at the Duluth airport Wednesday morning and into the afternoon. Airport officials hope departures can resume Wednesday evening.
Follow the storm's fallout on the Big Story Blog and the latest weather info on the Updraft blog.
• Photos from Duluth
Schools are closed in the central and northern parts of the state along with the Mille Lacs tribal offices. State budget offices in Aitkin, Carlton, Lake, Pine and St. Louis counties are also closed.
Meanwhile, the city of Duluth closed its offices and facilities Wednesday morning because of strong winds and rapidly accumulating snow. The city is only providing essential services like police and fire.
Cpt. Steve Stromback with the Minnesota State Patrol in Duluth said snow started rolling into the city at about 7 a.m.
"Today is not the day to make a trip up to Duluth or make it down to the Cities," he said. "It's just dangerous out there."
National Weather Service meteorologists say a foot of snow is expected in the Duluth region by the time the storm subsides Wednesday evening. Already more than a foot of snow has fallen south of a line stretching roughly from Hinckley eastward to Park Falls, Wis.
Wind gusts near Lake Superior have topped 60 miles per hour. Downtown Duluth and in the shopping area over the hill, blowing snow is reducing visibility to dangerous levels.
The State Patrol is advising emergency travel only on Interstate 35 from Pine City to Duluth.
CENTRAL MINN. GETS SMACKED WITH SNOW
The Minnesota Department of Transportation says travel is not advised on Highways 71, 10 and 169 in Morrison, Todd, Mille Lacs and Aitkin counties.
Many schools across central Minnesota have canceled and delayed classes for Wednesday.
Frank Bonsante, a Minnesota State Patrol dispatcher in the agency's Brainerd district, said many schools and businesses are closed and he's advising people to stay off the roads if they can. He reported five to six inches of snow and two- to three-foot drifts.
The Bemidji region was expecting a half a foot, but as of this morning got none. More snow is expected to fall this afternoon across the region.
MESSY MORNING COMMUTE
In the Twin Cities, the storm left roads slick and made for a slow commute. State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske said now that traffic has loosened up after the morning rush, people mistakenly believe they can drive faster than they should.
"We're still seeing people lose control. They're simply driving too fast for these conditions," he said. "This wet, heavy snow has a tendency to grab your vehicle. And if you're accelerating or trying to brake, you can lose control of your vehicle."
Roeske reports 73 crashes from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Twin Cities area with six reported injuries. Statewide, he said there have been 160 crashes with 15 reported injuries Wednesday morning. None of the injuries was serious or fatal.
Most of the accidents occurred in the Twin Cities metro, even though it received far less snow, varying from two to five inches. Authorities advise motorists to slow down because Twin Cities' roads remain slippery.
The storm also knocked out power to more than 33,000 Xcel Energy customers in the Twin Cities. As of about 5 p.m., 2,190 Xcel Energy customers remain without power, mostly in the west metro. Xcel hopes to restore all power by 11 p.m.
"We've seen scattered outages related to the ice on lines and on branches," said Xcel spokesperson Patti Nysteun. "We've had crews in the field all evening doing restoration efforts but we are still seeing additional outages happening this morning and still dispatching crews to respond to those."
Nysteun said most of the outages are lasting only a couple of hours. She said if residents see any downed power lines to stay away from them and call Xcel immediately.
Power was also knocked out in northeastern Minnesota. Minnesota Power is responding to two small power outages in the Duluth area. One is in Hermantown, affecting about 95 customers. The other affected 23 customers just north of Highway 2 running west toward Grand Rapids.
The National Weather Service says the storm primarily hit just north of the Twin Cities. Snowfall in the metro area ranged anywhere from two to five inches. Less snow fell farther south with no snow near the Iowa border.
Only two inches of snow fell at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Airport spokeswoman Melissa Scovronski reports that there are only a few cancellations and the two main, parallel runways are open.
(Reporter Tom Robertson contributed from Bemidji and reporter Elizabeth Stawicki contributed from St. Paul.)
- All Things Considered, 02/29/2012, 4:50 p.m.
Stephanie Hemphill reports on environmental issues for MPR News.