Blizzard Monday results in wind, ice and zero visibility
WILLMAR — Powerful northwest winds roared into west central Minnesota on Monday, creating blizzard-like conditions that reduced visibility to zero and made travel dangerous.
Single-digit temperatures and bitter cold wind chills as low as minus 34 will be the story today but Monday it was the blowing snow that was the issue.
At least 82 vehicles went off the roads and 17 crashes were reported on state highways in west central Minnesota by midday, according to the State Patrol. By nightfall, some highways had been closed.
A semi jackknifed on state Highway 23 by Clara City that blocked traffic and closed the road for several hours Monday afternoon.
Reports of additional vehicles that were stranded on roads and ditches because of zero visibility were received well into the evening hours Monday night.
It was reported around 7:15 p.m. that a semi had gone off state Highway 7 by Montevideo that temporarily shut down the route between Montevideo and Clara City.
By 8 p.m., conditions had continued to deteriorate, and several highways in southwestern Minnesota were closed until further notice by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the State Patrol.
The day started out with a fatal accident that happened Monday morning south of Granite Falls.
Roads were in icy condition at the time of the accident, which was reported around 7:30 a.m. on state Highway 23 south of Yellow Medicine County Road 17.
According to the State Patrol, Terrie McCoss, 35, of Marshall was killed when the 2003 Honda Civic she was driving collided with a 2007 GMC Sierra pickup driven by Jennifer Henslin, 50 of Granite Falls.
Henslin’s vehicle reportedly slid out of control, crossed the center line and collided with the Honda.
Henslin was injured and taken to the Granite Falls Hospital.
A winter weather advisory had been issued for Monday, but the weather changed quickly and the National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning by mid-morning for western Minnesota.
Although there was little to no new snowfall and skies were sunny for much of the day, northwest winds of 30-40 mph and gusts of 45-50 mph created white-out conditions in open areas.
Area schools that were in session on Presidents Day to make up for previous snow days dismissed classes early to get kids home before conditions worsened. Despite those efforts, several Willmar school buses had to turn around and come back to Willmar before all the rural students could be transported home.
Several businesses closed early and many community activities were cancelled as strong winds continued to kick up snow and make driving hazardous.
Schools in the region are already planning to start two hours late today.
Most west central Minnesota roads ranged from fair to difficult to hazardous driving conditions throughout Monday, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s District 8 office in Willmar issued an advisory around 2 p.m. recommending no unnecessary travel.
By 6 p.m. the MnDOT plows had been pulled from the roads, and the road closures began a couple hours later.
Kandiyohi County pulled its plows off the roads at 4 p.m.
Dave Fritz, maintenance supervisor for the Kandiyohi County Public Works Department, said winds defeated their efforts to combat persistent ground drifting.
“We’re not doing any good,” said Fritz. “It’s a pretty futile effort on our part.”
The frigid temperatures that began Monday night that will stick around for much of this week could mean icy road conditions will continue to be an issue, said Fritz.
“We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature,” said Fritz. “Hopefully everybody will drive to the conditions.”
Both state and county crews were planning to be back on the roads early this morning.
A wind chill advisory is expected to remain in effect until noon today.
For the latest information on road conditions and road closures, see the MnDOT road and travel conditions website at www.511mn.org.