Snowstorm causes hazardous driving conditions

Lake Superior waves
Waves off of Lake Superior crash onto the shore in Duluth's Canal Park on Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011. Wind gusts reached 45 MPH, the National Weather Service reported, but little snow has fallen.
Photo courtesy Brian Minor

Heavy snowfall across central and southern Minnesota on Sunday led to hundreds of flight cancellations and made road travel difficult and dangerous.

By Sunday evening, snowfall totals reached 10 inches or more in many locations across the southern half of the state.

Bloomington has received at least 15 inches, Eden Prairie 14 inches, Maplewood 11 inches. MPR Meteorologist Paul Huttner said the snow was to taper off by Monday morning.

By midday on Monday, more than a foot of new snow is expected in the Twin Cities and most of central and southern Minnesota.

Ted Gibbons clears snow in front of the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Mankato, Minn., Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011.
AP Photo/Mankato Free Press, Wright Braudt

MnDOT is advising no travel in most of Minnesota and reported difficult driving conditions on most roads south of St. Cloud. Travel on Interstate 35 north to Duluth was also rated "difficult."

The Minnesota State Patrol responded to 284 crashes statewide between 9 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, including 37 involving injuries. There were no fatal accidents, but an additional 368 vehicles spun off the road and five semis jacknifed.

The State Patrol said 211 of the crashes and more than 100 of the spinouts were in the Twin Cities area, including a squad car that was hit.

"It's coming down at a pretty fast rate, so I would advise that if you don't need to travel today, it's probably a good day to sit inside," said Minnesota State Patrol spokesman Eric Roeske.

Roeske said roads just south of the metro have been hardest hit so far. Roeske is asking drivers to slow down, wear their seat belts, and leave plenty of time to get to their destination.

MnDOT had its full contingent of plows out on the roads, but the snow is falling as fast as the drivers can push it away, spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said.

Dogs enjoying the snow
Fionna and Simon weathering the storm in St. Paul on Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011.
Submitted photo

He said the wind was the biggest problem.

"That causes blowing snow, which hampers visibility and it causes the snow to drift, which can make for difficult driving," he said.

Gutknecht said with many people off work for Presidents' Day Monday, fewer cars on the road should mean fewer accidents.

In Wisconsin, authorities closed both lanes of Interstate 94 near Eau Claire and westbound Interstate 90 Sunday afternoon because of traffic accidents.

In one crash, a vehicle rolled over and ambulance and fire trucks blocked part of the road for a time. No major injuries were reported.

Officials say it's possible that roadways -- including segments of the Interstate Highway System and other freeways -- could become impassable.


Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport spokeswoman Melissa Strovonsky said Delta has canceled 700 flights. Those flights were originally scheduled to leave or arrive in Minneapolis by midnight Sunday.

On Sunday afternoon, 450 of the 560 arrivals and departures listed -- about 78 percent of the flights -- were cancelled.

Scovronski said there will be many more cancellations Sunday and Monday.

Moving snow
Betsy Wolfe snowblows outside of her home on Portland Avenue in St. Paul, Minn. Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"One of the things that are exacerbating that problem -- we'll have northeast winds up to 25 miles an hour or so and that can really limit our runway options," Scorvronski said.

Travelers can check their flight status at the airport's website.

Travel within the Twin Cities was also becoming more difficult. Metro Transit says about one in six buses were running late, spokesman John Siqveland said. The average delay was only about three minutes, but officials are concerned about Monday.

Siqveland said officials met Sunday afternoon to discuss the situation and decided to add buses to compensate for vehicles that get stuck Monday morning -- although they expect a lighter rush because of the Presidents' Day holiday.

The city of St. Paul declared a snow emergency, prompting parking restrictions. City officials asked for residents' cooperation.

"With everyone working together we can get through this snow storm with the least amount of disruption," Public Works Director Rich Lallier said in a written statement.

Minneapolis officials decided not to declare a snow emergency on Sunday, instead waiting until the snow ends to decide. Officials said a snow emergency declaration could come on Monday.


The roof of the Metrodome collapsed more than two months ago, but officials there are still keeping an eye on the facility during the storm.

The Dec. 12 blizzard initially ruptured a side panel and let the supporting air out of the building. The snow load from the storm broke open at least three more panels, and did slight damage to the interior.

Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Executive Director Bill Lester said that although the roof is scheduled for replacement, his staff doesn't want any more of the roof to fall in.

"We're using our normal snow protocols, and that includes heating the building up to 80 degrees plus, to melt it as it lands," Lester said. "We also have the ability to put people up on the roof to wash it down. All the drain plugs of the various fabric panels are pulled so it can drain down onto the roof, and then be drained through the floor drain system of the Metrodome."

The commission is expected this week to pick a contractor to replace that fabric roof this summer.


Xcel Energy said about 7,900 customers, mostly in the St. Cloud and Waite Park area, lost power on Sunday. But spokeswoman Mary Sandok said the outages turned out to be because of an equipment failure at a substation and were not weather related.

Sandok said power to those customers has since been restored.

(MPR reporters Elizabeth Dunbar and Matt Sepic contributed to this report.)

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