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Blizzard closes highways, drops nearly 20 inches of snow on Duluth

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Vehicles are stranded along Highway 33 in Cloquet
Vehicles are stranded along Highway 33 in Cloquet as a winter storm strikes the region on Saturday night.
Courtesy Cloquet Police Department

Updated: 7:35 a.m.

Blizzard conditions continued to hammer the city of Duluth and surrounding areas late Saturday and early Sunday, forcing the closure of Park Point to non-residents and shutting down a stretch of Interstate 35.

The National Weather Service reported a storm total of 19.3 inches of snow at the Duluth airport as of 6 a.m. Sunday — with more on the way. Winds have gusted in excess of 50 miles per hour, causing some flooding near the Lake Superior shore.

Elsewhere in Minnesota, anywhere from a dusting to several inches of snow overnight caused difficult driving conditions on Sunday morning. Snow will gradually end Sunday; the Weather Service said another inch or two is possible in the Twin Cities, with up to 4 inches possible in the Duluth area and east-central Minnesota.

Blizzard conditions and big Lake Superior waves in Duluth
Whiteout conditions descend on downtown Duluth on Saturday. A large winter storm brought blizzard conditions to Duluth and northern Minnesota and was forecast to drop over a foot of snow across large swaths of the state.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Storm shuts down Duluth

City officials in Duluth issued a no-travel advisory on Saturday, and conditions continued to deteriorate through the evening and overnight.

Just before 9 p.m. Saturday, the city announced that it had “closed access to Park Point for non-residents. The Duluth Police Department is checking identification before the Aerial Lift Bridge.” The restrictions remained in place as of 7:30 a.m. Sunday.

A lakeshore flood warning is in effect for Duluth through Sunday afternoon as strong east winds and high water levels on Lake Superior are combining to create mammoth waves and a surge of water along the Duluth lakeshore and in the Duluth-Superior harbor. The waves caused some street flooding in Canal Park.

“Water has subsided on South Lake Avenue, Morse and Buchanan Street, and a portion of Canal Park Drive,” the city reported in an update on Sunday morning. “Street closures on Morse, Buchanan, and (the) end portion of Canal Park Drive will remain in effect until later today.”

Winds were starting to turn to the northeast on Sunday morning, possibly diminishing the threat of flooding.

A blizzard warning remains in effect for the Duluth area until noon Sunday.

Harbor Drive is closed near the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center
Harbor Drive is closed near the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on Saturday because of flooding amid blizzard conditions affecting Duluth.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Plows were out in Duluth overnight, but the no-travel advisory remained in effect as of Sunday morning. “Please stay home and shelter in place until further notice,” the city reported.

To the west, the Minnesota Department of Transportation closed a stretch of Interstate 35 between Duluth and Cloquet. The Cloquet Police Department posted a photo of vehicles stranded along Highway 33 in that city late Saturday.

And the Duluth Transit Authority announced early Sunday that it was canceling bus service for the day because of the poor road conditions.

"Please be patient with plow drivers as this is expected to be a historic storm," the city reported in a news release Saturday. "Plowing could take longer, from the amount of snow projected to fall."

Despite calls for people to stay off the roads, the Duluth Police Department reported a busy night.

"We are getting multiple calls regarding people getting stuck in the snow," the department reported on its Facebook page late Saturday. "Help is coming (but) it may be a while. Please save yourself a headache and stay home.‬"

Just outside Duluth, the Hermantown Police Department reported late Saturday that “multiple roads contain multiple stuck cars making some areas impassable and bottlenecking all traffic. … Tow trucks are busy and also stuck. (Two-hour) waits common.”

Elsewhere in Minnesota

Elsewhere in the state, winter storm warnings and winter weather advisories remain in effect for much of northern and central Minnesota through Sunday morning. There may be some light freezing rain mixed in with the light snow at times.

While Duluth and Cloquet may have seen some of the worst of the storm, there was difficult travel elsewhere in the state. To the west, the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office reported Sunday morning that “travel in Aitkin County is not advised. Unplowed roads have 12 to 18 inches of snow. Plowed roads are filling back in quickly due to blowing snow. Stay where you are and give the crews time to clear the roads. If you have an emergency expect a significant delay.”

From 10 p.m. Friday to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, the State Patrol reported more than 300 crashes on Minnesota highways, and more than 500 vehicles spun out or in the ditch along with eight jackknifed semis.

Some good news: After Sunday, mostly dry and quiet weather is expected across Minnesota for the next several days.

Neighboring states

As of Sunday morning, the South Dakota Department of Transportation reported that Interstate 90 remained closed from Chamberlain west to the Wyoming border. No-travel advisories were in effect for much of the state.

In North Dakota, authorities were advising no travel in most of the northeastern part of the state, including the Grand Forks area and Interstate 29 from Grand Forks to the Canadian border.