Winter returns to Duluth, delighting some residents
In a year of upside-down weather, it was fitting in a way that parts of northeast Minnesota awoke to about a foot of heavy snow Monday morning. But for some enthusiasts it means a last gasp of winter fun in a season that has produced too little snow.
Less than two days ago, temperatures in Minnesota hit 70 degrees. Today, parts of the Arrowhead region are digging out from a foot of wet snow that fell overnight. The spring storm closed schools, downed power lines and made driving treacherous.
Louann Fieck had it rougher than most. She and her husband were nearly trapped in their camper where they spent the night on their land near Greeney, northwest of Cook.
"We knew there was snow out there, but when we went to open up the door we almost were frozen in," Fieck said. "But my husband got it open."
It took the Fiecks about two hours to dig out and begin the trek to their home near Rochester. They stopped for lunch at the Montana Cafe in Cook, where owner Valerie Ohotto was decidedly unhappy to wake up to the white stuff this morning.
"I hated it. I've already mowed my lawn," Ohotto said, laughing.
But the bright side, she adds, is that business has been good.
"It's been steady with no breaks. Crazy, ain't it?" she said. "There's so many people around here without any power, that's why they're all coming in."
At one point, nearly 16,000 people lost electricity across the region. Most were customers of Lake Country Power, an electric cooperative that serves a 10,000 square-mile swath of the Arrowhead.
Fallen tree limbs caused 95 percent of the outages, said Lake Country Power spokeswoman Tami Zaun. Earlier today she accompanied a crew repairing a line.
"I witnessed this huge evergreen branch that was down resting on the power lines," Zaun said. "They had to take their chain saws out and actually cut that portion of the tree down in order to get the trees off of the lines."
Zaun estimates it will take until tomorrow evening to restore power to more remote areas.
While the Iron Range was pelted with wet, heavy snow, Duluth received more wind than snow — gale-force winds. The National Weather Service reported gusts exceeding 60 mph on the bridge between Duluth and Superior, Wis. The wind whipped up waves in Lake Superior that looked to be 8- to 9-feet tall before they crashed onto shore. The action drew surfers wearing wetsuits into the lake to catch the big swells.
The severe winds wreaked havoc on the roads, said Jeff Hall, maintenance operations support manager for the Minnesota Department of Transportation in Duluth.
"With the wet heavy snow, the weight on the trees, and then with the high winds, it was knocking trees down," he said. "So there were a lot of roads that were impassable due to trees that had blown down across them."
Nearly 100 plows were dispatched across the region, Hall said. The MnDOT issued a no-travel advisory for much of the region until noon today, but by 5 p.m. major roads were cleared, Hall said.
The storm was good news for a region of the state that has been wracked by drought. Just over two inches of rain fell Sunday on Duluth, a record for that date. Moisture levels are now just over normal for the calendar year, although Duluth's snowfall total is still down 34 inches for the season.
That's why Kathleen Anderson, who runs Winter Moon Sled Dog Adventures in Brimson, Minn., was overjoyed by the storm.
"It was wonderful, I loved it. You could tell the dogs had renewed energy and they were all excited," Anderson said. "They looked at me this morning and I had to go in the shed and pull the sled out. I wasn't sure if I would get to use it again."
Anderson took two dog teams out today for short runs. With warmer temperatures and rain in the forecast Wednesday, she knows this may be the last chance she gets until next winter.