Early season storm blankets Northland
When Cloquet's Amber Nichols headed outside with her measuring tape Wednesday morning, it showed 15 inches of snow in her back yard ... and the National Weather Service in Duluth was predicting an additional eight to 12 inches more on top of that.
Cloquet Street Supervisor Les Peterson said the winter storm was keeping his crews busy.
"Our plows came out at 4 a.m.," Peterson said 12 hours later. "Of course, the streets looked better at 4 a.m. than they do now."
It was quite the week for winter weather, with snow starting to fall Monday, enough to require a two-hour delay to the start of some area schools on Tuesday, and outright cancellation of all area schools on Wednesday.
The snow just kept falling, burying cars that were just swept off and making already cleared streets look like the plows had never touched them.
Peterson said his crews had completed all their routes Wednesday by 11 a.m. and were starting to clear away the windrows of snow from Cloquet Avenue when they decided maybe snow removal could wait until Thursday.
"Everyone went back to their routes to do them a second time and even a third time in some areas," Peterson said, noting that crews stayed an extra hour Wednesday (working from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and were planning to come in an hour early Thursday, at 3 a.m.
"We heard they'd like to have school Thursday with just an hour or two delay, so we thought we'd see if we can make that possible," Peterson said. "Of course, the snow is supposed to keep coming all night. We can use some extra time to get it off the road."
As of 11 a.m. Wednesday, the Minnesota State Patrol had responded to
175 crashes statewide since midnight Tuesday, along with 192 cases of vehicle spinouts that ended with the vehicle off the road and one jack-knifed semi. There were four fatal crashes statewide on Monday.
Locally, Cloquet Police Sergeant Rick Benko said police had responded to a couple crashes, neither with injuries.
"When we get these bad storms, it's surprising, but we don't see many crashes," Benko said. "People slow down in these conditions. It's when we get a dusting of snow that people don't realize how bad it is and don't slow down."
The National Weather Service predicted the three-day storm accumulations would be in the 12- to 18-inch range in most areas, however, the highest storm total snowfall was expected in locales from near Duluth northeastward along the higher terrain adjacent to the North Shore of Lake Superior, where amounts in excess of two feet to 40 inches could be seen by Thursday morning.
"We don't get three-day snowfalls very often -- every few years. Even for the North Shore and Duluth, for a storm to hit 30 inches, that's pretty unusual," Carol Christenson, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Duluth, said. "For us to even forecast snow totals like this, it goes against the averages."
When the snow subsides sometime Thursday, bitterly cold Artic air is expected to rapidly move into the region, sending temperatures below zero and wind-chill levels into the dangerous range. The low temperature Friday morning will drop into the teens below zero with wind-chill values to 30 below.
A forecast of quickly plummeting temperatures is another reason to worry, the street supervisor added.
"We want to get it off the streets as soon as possible so it's not frozen to the road surface," Peterson said. "Then we'd be in a real pickle."
Forum Communications reporter John Myers contributed to this story.
The MSP sent out the following tips for Safe Winter Driving:
+ Avoid unnecessary travel if conditions are too poor.
+ Buckle up, and make sure child restraints are secured. It is recommended not to use bulky clothing when securing a child in a restraint. Use blankets on top of the child restraint harness, not beneath.
+ Drive at safe speeds according to road conditions, and provide for plenty of travel time.
+ Increase safe stopping distance between vehicles.
+ If skidding, remain calm, ease foot off the gas, and turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go.
+ Clear snow and ice from vehicle windows, hood, headlights, brake lights and directional signals.
+ Headlights must be turned on when it is snowing or sleeting.
+ Do not use cruise control on snowy/icy/wet roads.
+ Use extra precautions when driving around snowplows by keeping at least five car-lengths behind plows.
Don't crowd the plow
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has its plows out on state roadways clearing snow and applying sand and salt.
MnDOT encourages motorists to give plows room to work and to slow down when encountering plows.
Motorists also are reminded that as temperatures drop, ice may form and create slippery spots. Bridges also may become slippery.
Prepare Your Winter Weather Emergency Kit
DPS' Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management urges motorists to create a winter weather emergency kit for their vehicle in case they become stranded. The kit should include:
+ Coffee can and small candles and matches to use to melt snow for drinking water
+ Brightly colored bandana or cloth to hang from the vehicle window to signal help is needed
+ Large plastic garbage bags to tie around feet to keep them warm
+ Safety pins to secure the garbage bags
+ Whistle to alert authorities
+ Cell phone adapter to plug into lighter
+ Plastic flashlight and spare batteries
+ Extra hats, mittens, boots and blankets
Motorists who are stranded should remain in their vehicle and call 911 for help.