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Snow continued to blow Thursday afternoon along Minnesota Highway 23 south of Raymond. Driving was challenging at times as blowing snow hindered visibility. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

Another winter day in Minnesota

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WILLMAR ––  The blizzard Thursday may have fallen short of expectations in the multi-county region of west central Minnesota that was under the weather warning, but there were places and times when blizzard conditions were in full force.

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“Patchy,” is how Shawn DeVinny, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen described the day.

The bad patches included high winds and low visibility that resulted in some very serious accidents in the state, including a 22-car pile-up in southern Minnesota, and caused the temporary closure of some highways, including I-94 near Alexandria.

In this region, there were several incidents reported, including a van that went off U.S. Highway 71 north of Willmar and struck a median cable. There were no injuries in that accident.

Denny Marty, maintenance supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Transportation District 8 in Willmar said the storm was “sporadic” and the predicted conditions didn’t materialize for much of this region.

“Not much showed up, and we’re not going to complain about that,” said Marty, in an interview Thursday afternoon. “The roads aren’t too bad.”

Visibility did “come and go” in locations but Marty said, overall travel conditions were not bad for most of Thursday.

DeVinny said the public’s vision of a blizzard may differ from the criteria of what forecasters officially use to define a blizzard and issue warnings.

A blizzard warning “doesn’t necessarily require any snow to be falling” but must include wind speeds of 40 mph and visibility of less than a quarter of a mile.

“We certainly had those winds,” he said. Because some areas only had a light dusting of new snowfall on top of the crusty snow, visibility wasn’t as bad as expected in some regions.

Although there were “patchy reports of blizzards” in some areas, DeVinny said there were also some “really bad” conditions in parts of the state.

Perhaps some of the most difficult conditions happened when new snow fell after sunset.

Northwest winds were still howling at 20-30 mph, which not only reduced visibility but dumped the wind chill to about 20 below zero.

DeVinny said those conditions are dangerous and blizzard warnings are issued to advise people to use caution.

DeVinny said the weather service was taking reports of conditions and viewing photos from highway cameras to assess the storm, which is expected to wrap up early this morning before the temperatures creep up to the lower 20s by late this afternoon.

Meanwhile, Marty said MnDOT crews will take whatever comes next in stride.

“We maybe missed this one, but we’ll be ready for the next one,” said Marty.

While there’s no big snow storm on the horizon, DeVinny warns that another string of very cold Arctic air and sub-zero temperatures is expected to move into the region later this month.

Some forecasters are predicting that the next blast from the polar vortex will be even worse the one earlier this month.

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