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Blizzard conditions Sunday were not limited to remote, rural areas. High winds along Business 71 near Robbins Island in Willmar created areas of severely diminished visibility. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

Another wintry blast brings traffic to a standstill

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WILLMAR — Travel came to a standstill across the region Sunday as strong winds brought blowing and drifting snow and treacherous driving conditions.

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In the storm’s wake, virtually all area school districts — from Willmar and New London-Spicer to BOLD, Yellow Medicine East and Paynesville — canceled classes today.

The blizzard-like conditions were the latest in a seemingly unending series of winter blasts: snow, then wind, then bitter cold.

Between two and four inches of fresh snow fell in west central Minnesota Saturday night, according to the National Weather Service. The snow was followed by an Arctic front that moved in on Sunday afternoon, accompanied by 30-40 mph winds from the northwest that gusted at times to 50 mph.

The storm was the worst of the winter so far.

Whiteout conditions made for extremely difficult driving. In numerous spots, drifting snow covered the roadway, and icy patches led to some spin-outs. By Sunday night, the Minnesota Department of Transportation had closed several highways in the region and was advising no travel.

A crash led to the closing of Highway 4 between Highways 7 and 212 between Cosmos and Hector. Highway 71, from near Blomkest to Highway 23 just south of Willmar, also was closed due to blowing snow and poor visibility.

Highways west of Granite Falls and west of Redwood Falls were shut down as well.

A power outage was reported Sunday night in Sacred Heart and neighboring towns. Visibility in Sacred Heart reportedly was limited to half a block.

The Minnesota Department of Safety Homeland Security and Emergency Management division announced Sunday night that emergency shelters were being opened in Freeborn, Renville and Cottonwood counties for travelers stranded by the blizzard.

As many as 30 people sought safety at the National Guard Armory in Olivia on Sunday. In Cottonwood County, a bus full of varsity and junior varsity hockey players, their coaches and parents were among those stranded on their way to Sioux Falls, S.D., state officials said.

A blizzard warning issued by the National Weather Service covered almost two-thirds of the state. Blowing and drifting snow was expected to continue today, although winds were predicted to moderate late Sunday night.

Meanwhile, temperatures plummeted to the subzero range, with a high today of only 11 below and a high Tuesday of 4 below. The forecast calls for dangerously cold wind chill readings through Tuesday.

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