Updated: Dec. 19, 1:00 p.m.
Utilities have restored power to the tens of thousands of Minnesota households that lost power in the wake of last week's massive winter storm.
That slow-moving storm finally began moving out of the region Saturday, the light, lingering snowfall a contrast to the heavy, wet snow that helped bring down trees and power lines.
Utilities warn some households will likely lose power again over the next couple weeks as more trees weighed down by the heavy snow bend or break over power lines.
Minnesota utilities reported fewer than 2,000 homes and businesses were still without electricity as of Sunday afternoon — down from more than 35,000 early Friday, noting restoration could take days.
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Most of the weekend’s remaining outages were in the Lake Country Power service area, with the biggest number in Carlton and St. Louis counties. Earlier, the outages ranged from the Brainerd, Mora and Hinckley areas northeast toward Grand Rapids, Duluth and the Arrowhead.
“This is the worst winter storm we have faced in terms of the number of outages and trouble reports, and we appreciate our customers’ patience as we deal with the difficult conditions in the field,” Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Power's vice president of transmission and distribution, said in a news release Friday.
Lake Country Power said the deep snow made it difficult for crews to get close to the poles that support the lines.
“The guys won't be working until I'd say 11 — midnight maybe one [Monday] morning,” Tami Zaun, a spokesperson for Lake Country Power. “And so if you don't have power restored by then please do be making some contingency plans to stay warm. We know that the cold, the bitter cold is starting to set in."
The Aitkin County Sheriff's Office said the situation had improved to the point that warming centers will that were open on Saturday will not be needed on Sunday. People in need could still find supplies and heated space in the lobby at the Aitkin County Sheriff's Office.
In Carlton County, Moose Lake Community School were open Sunday for local residents without power. School officials said residents could warm up, get water, take a shower, access wi-fi and charge electronic devices. The Red Cross had food and water available at the school.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said the heavy snow had “severely impacted” some parks and trails in northern Minnesota.
“Maintenance crews are working diligently to get parks and trails ready for visitors, but some parks in northeast Minnesota are largely inaccessible at this time,” the agency reported Friday night. “Power outages have occurred in some locations. Crews are plowing roads and removing hazards before they can get to trail grooming.”
Snow totals reported to the National Weather Service as of Friday afternoon included 30.5 inches at Rice Lake north of Duluth, 29 inches at Finland in Lake County, 28.5 inches in Duluth's Gary-New Duluth neighborhood, 28.2 inches in the higher terrain northwest of Two Harbors and 28 inches at Beaver Bay.
On Saturday morning, the Duluth airport reported 29.1 inches of snow since Tuesday night, with the bulk of that falling on Wednesday and Thursday.
Elsewhere in Minnesota, snow reports included 18.6 inches in Chisholm, 18.3 inches near Kerrick, 15.3 inches in Moorhead, 13.7 inches at Camp Ripley, 5.5 inches at Hopkins and 5 inches at Granite Falls.
‘Tough time getting around’
The heavy, wet snow sent trees falling onto power lines — and that deep snow also was making it difficult for repair crews.
Minnesota Power reported Thursday that some of its crews were using snowmobiles and other tracked vehicles to access downed lines. On Friday, it said it would have 70 additional lineworkers — 40 of them from a utility company in Kansas City — joining its own crews to help restore power over the weekend. The utility said it also was bringing in specialized contractors to deal with trees that had fallen — or were at risk of falling — onto power lines.
Lake Country Power in northeast Minnesota reported being “optimistic” about making progress in restoring service Friday, with more roads plowed and only light snow in the forecast.
The utility reported that crews from around the state — including from Mankato and Albert Lea — had traveled north to help with repairs.
Interstates reopen in Dakotas
North Dakota transportation officials said Interstate 94 was back open Friday afternoon between Fargo and Bismarck, after an earlier closure due to blizzard conditions across the Great Plains.
During that earlier closure, gates were used to prevent vehicles from accessing the freeway — though the North Dakota Highway Patrol shared video footage Thursday of a semi crashing through one of those gates.
Interstate 29 also was back open south of Fargo after an earlier closure. Interstate 29 and Interstate 90 also reopened in South Dakota on Saturday. But even where highways technically were open, authorities were advising caution as many roads in eastern North Dakota and most of South Dakota were icy or snow-covered.
In Minnesota, MnDOT was reporting snow-covered highways across most of the state. The State Patrol responded to hundreds of crashes and spinouts on snowy roads on Thursday.
Snow emergency parking rules remain in effect in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and several other cities — including Mankato, Plymouth, Bloomington and Brooklyn Center.
Colder air is forecast to move into the region in the wake of the storm, with single-digit — maybe even subzero — high temperatures next week. Find forecast details on MPR Weather’s Updraft blog.