Sixty-four people have been injured and one person has died on state roads and highways since Thursday afternoon as a huge winter storm made its way across Minnesota. Elsewhere, school cancelations and early storm warnings kept many people at home.
And the Minnesota State Patrol said Friday motorists in much of the state should stay off the roads all weekend.
Leonard Kahn, 60, of Elgin, Minn., died after the Dodge Caravan he was driving collided head-on with a semi truck shortly after 2 p.m. on Thursday. The accident occurred under icy conditions on undivided Highway 42 in Wabasha County, according to a Minnesota State Patrol incident report. The semi truck driver sustained non-life threatening injuries.
State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske said late Friday troopers responded to 685 crashes and more than 1,900 instances where cars have spun out or slid off the roads. He said people should avoid driving today if they can.
Among the accidents caused by icy conditions were 66 jack-knifed semi trucks, Roeske said Friday.
Gov. Mark Dayton declared an emergency Friday, calling out the National Guard to help with recovery and sheltering of stranded motorists in parts of central and southeastern Minnesota.
Road conditions have prompted all State Patrol command staff to suspend their daily duties and provide assistance on state highways.
Veteran troopers in several parts of Minnesota say the conditions are as bad as they've seen in 25 years, State Patrol Lt. Col. Matt Langer said.
Blowing and drifting snow is making travel very difficult across northeast Minnesota, where as much as 17 inches of snow has fallen in some areas. Winds gusting over 30 mph are blowing snow onto roadways and reducing visibility for motorists in Duluth and across the Arrowhead region.
Duluth police advised travel only if necessary. Roads in Duluth are snow packed and slick, and many side streets and alleys remain unplowed.
"Other than main arteries of travel, travel is almost impossible unless you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, and even then, it's very difficult," said Mike Tusken of the Duluth Police Department. "There's drifts that are as tall as cars. I don't know how you'd make it through there."
According to the State Patrol, Interstate 35 between Duluth and the Twin Cities is passable with reduced speeds, but it is snow packed and slick in places. Officials urge caution in tunnels through downtown Duluth as snow that is tracked in or blows into the tunnels can make driving along curves treacherous.
St. Louis County has more than 100 plows out clearing roads. Gusty winds have casued six-foot drifts in some areas of northern Minnesota, which is making it tough for crews to apply sand and salt to roads.
Local emergency responders are prepared to help shelter more stranded motorists over the next few days. Joe Kelly, deputy director of homeland security in Minnesota, said the National Guard helped about 290 people during last night's snow storm. He said people who had either run off the road or were stranded by road closures were taken to National Guard Armories and other buildings in eight counties throughout the southern third of the state.
"Local officials are always watching road conditions and paying attention to who is out there," Kelly said. "They're prepared to take people in if the conditions get bad again, later tonight or into tomorrow."
State Department of Transportation officials are still advising drivers to stay off the roads throughout the evening. About a dozen roads remained closed Friday afternoon.
Interstate 90 was closed in both directions from Austin to Stewartville, just south of Rochester.
No cars were allowed on southbound I-35 from Owatonna to the Minnesota-Iowa border. Officials hope to open at least one lane of southbound I-35W from Owatonna to Albert Lea later in the evening.
Emergency responders say road conditions are not improving quickly.
State Patrol officials expect road conditions to remain treacherous for the next several days.
Meanwhile, by 4 p.m. Friday Xcel Energy had restored power to about 95 percent of the 50,000 Minnesota customers who lost power since Thursday. As of 2 p.m., 453 customers were without power in the western part of the Twin Cities metro area and 1,657 customers lacked power in the east metro.
Xcel officials said they expect to completely restore service by noon Saturday.
Snowfall totals of 6 to 12 inches blanketed the state, and the 9.9 inches recorded at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is the biggest snowfall of winter there so far. According to the Minnesota Climatology Working Group, this is the coldest winter since 1978-79.
The heavy snowfall set back the day plowing schedule in St. Paul, where the city extended day plowing and parking restrictions until late in the evening on Friday. Residents there are being asked to avoid parking on designated Day Plow Routes until the street has been plowed full width -- and to expect to be towed and ticketed if they don't.
The very heavy, wet snow also brought down a lot of power lines. Rochester Public Utilities reported more than 3,000 customers have lost power. Crews were out all night working to restore power to about 3,000 customers.
Outside of the cities, MnDOT plows are out in force. The snow and ice has been hard to clear because it's been compressed by the wind and traffic, spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said.
He said falling temperatures have made the ice more solid.
The news isn't all bad, however.
"The sun is out, and if you get out of the wind, and kind of stand in the sun, you can feel some warmth from it," Gutknecht said.
"That warmth is actually a big help to us as well, because it helps affect the way and the speed with which [road] salt will work."
Still, Gutknecht cautions drivers to slow down.