Most schools in the region closed early today and many community events have been canceled because snow and high winds are causing limited visibility and snow drifts on roads.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation advises no travel in southwest and west central Minnesota due to blowing snow and reduced visibility, according to Pam Wood, public affairs coordinator with the MnDOT District 8 office in Willmar.
Kandiyohi County plows have been out since early morning trying to keep intersections sanded and knocking down snow drifts.
"In this wind it's pretty tough," said Steve Lindgren, shop foreman for the Kandiyohi County Public Works Department.
Visibility is worse in the open areas and drifts that are plowed out are filling in quickly again, said Lindgren.
The blizzard warning took school superintendents by surprise. After considering options they moved rapidly to close schools and transport students,
"It boils down to that we want to keep kids safe and we want to get them home," said Willmar School Superintendent Dr. Jerry Kjergaard.
Conditions were so bad in the Montevideo area that the school district there had considered keeping students in town and not sending the buses out. A spokeswoman for the district said one bus did get stuck while taking students home but there were no other incidents reported.
Along with making the difficult decision about whether to let school out early or not is making sure families are aware children are being sent home.
The district's new Campus Messenger system was put to the test this morning to let parents know about the early closing.
The automated computer system made about 4,200 calls in less than ½ hour, said Kjergaard.
There were a few minor glitches in the system- mostly some incorrect telephone numbers.
"But a great majority of the phone calls were absolutely correct," he said.
Paul Carlson, superintendent at New London-Spicer said bus drivers there were put on alert early this morning when the blizzard conditions were first predicted.
After communicating with bus company, weather forecasters and superintendents from districts in the western part of the state, Carlson said the decision was made to close school and call for the buses to come back to the school before noon.
"There's a very small window of opportunity to send your kids home," he said. "We were able to organize pretty quickly."
Kjergaard said deciding whether to close school early because of weather is one of the most difficult decisions a superintendent has to make.