Season’s first ‘real’ winter storm hits the NorthlandOnce the year's first respectable snow storm arrived, it made up for lateness with enthusiastic wind gusts that measured as high as 65 mph near the harbor area in Duluth. By 2 p.m. Wednesday, spotters had reported 7 ½ inches of snow in Cloquet, 9 inches in Saginaw, 8 inches in Duluth and Esko, 7.2 inches in Moose Lake and 10 inches in Pine City although the snow was far from finished at that point.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Old Man Winter isn’t always the most considerate guest. In fact, the Northland’s first real winter storm arrived early Wednesday instead of Tuesday evening, almost six hours later than expected.
“We were getting a little nervous when the leading edge of the storm came up just south of Duluth, and then stopped for a few hours,” said Dan Miller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Duluth. “It was snowing in Hinckley by probably 7 or 7:30 p.m. and then it took until 2 or 3 a.m. to get up to the Cloquet and Duluth corridor.”
Once the storm arrived, however, it made up for lateness with enthusiastic wind gusts that measured as high as 65 mph near the harbor area in Duluth.
By 2 p.m. Wednesday, NWS spotters had reported 7 ½ inches of snow in Cloquet, 9 inches in Saginaw, 8 inches in Duluth and Esko, 7.2 inches in Moose Lake and 10 inches in Pine City although the snow was far from finished at that point.
The heaviest snowfall was south of Carlton County, in a band that stretched from Mille Lacs Lake and Hinckley – where spotters reported 12 ½ inches by 11:30 a.m. Wednesday – and east into Wisconsin where Hayward reported 14 inches by 10:30 a.m. By the time the storm was winding down at 2:30 p.m., more than 19 inches of snow had fallen in the hardest-hit areas in Northwestern Wisconsin, with more one report of 20 inches from Pine County east of Hinckley.
Cloquet resident Edward Carlson was plowing his driveway on his Kawasaki “mule” well before noon on Wednesday.
Carlson said he didn’t mind the snow.
“It’s alright, I like it,” said the longtime resident (who moved here in 1965, the same year Interstate 35 was built). “I’ve been out here an hour, it’s not bad really.”
While schools were cancelled throughout the Northland, not everyone stayed home.
Letter carrier Mike Jago trudged through drifts downtown, staff at Burger Shoes assisted a man who had fallen outside the Carlton Avenue shoe store and police and fire department personnel stayed busy – although there were fewer snow-emergency calls than might have been expected.
“We basically responded to a couple weather-related accidents, but it hasn’t been bad,” said Cloquet Police Chief Wade Lamirande later Wednesday afternoon. “With the closures, the public has been pretty good about adhering to warnings to stay off the streets.”
Lamirande said police officers had ticketed about a half dozen vehicles during the night shift for parking on the streets in violation of the city ordinance.
“We’re basically trying to get people to get cars and trucks off the street so the snow plows can maintain their speed and get the snow pushed back,” he said.
City Street and Park Supervisor Les Peterson said the plows hit the streets at 4 a.m. “with bells on.”
“Of course, it didn’t look like much snow then,” Peterson said just before 4 p.m. Wednesday, as he prepared to pull the city plows off the streets for the day. “About 5 or 5:50 a.m. it seemed like the snow got more intense. And we know what it looks like now.”
Peterson said the plows had been down every street at least once during the 12-hour shift, and most of them twice. The wind, even more than the wet snow, was a problem for the plows.
“You would plow and come back an hour later and it looked like you hadn’t done anything,” he said.
The Leap Day blizzard was the first major snow event this season for city workers, Peterson added.
“We had plows out at 5 a.m. once this year, but this was the first ‘4-o’clock-every-able-bodied-person-comes-to-work’ event we’ve had,” he said. “If you can drive, you’re here.”
To add insult to injury, four workers and two trucks had to be diverted to repair a water main break in Sunnyside for part of the day.
Carlton County seemingly escaped some of the more extreme problems that plagued Duluth and Superior.
Minnesota Power reported dozens of outages Wednesday morning across the region, especially in the Twin Ports, including a major outage affecting about 4,500 customers in Superior and scattered outages affecting more than 200 customers, mostly in western Duluth. Most of the outages were small, caused by tree limbs falling on lines.
In Superior, high winds caused a line to snap and cross another line, said Amy Rutledge, manager of corporate communications for Minnesota Power/Allete. Power was expected to be restored to most Superior customers by 3:30 p.m. Workers were hampered by the “intense wind,” she said.
City crews in Cloquet were planning to be back on the streets at 4 a.m.
“We’ll do it all over again,” Peterson said. “There’s a lot to clean up: Cloquet Avenue, parking lots and we want to get the skating rinks open for the weekend.”
They could be doing the same thing all over again next week, according to Miller.
“It looks like a fairly active pattern for the next week to 10 days, which is a marked change from the first few months of winter,” the meteorologist said, adding that there was a hint of a snow event next Thursday or Friday, just in time for the state hockey tournament.
Old Man Winter might be back for seconds.
Duluth News Tribune reporters contributed to this story.