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A tornado was photographed Monday outside of St. Leo. The Yellow Medicine County Sheriff’s Office said a tornado caused damaged to at least three farm sites Monday afternoon southeast of St. Leo. (Submitted photo by Brandy Wickstrom)

Early spring blizzard hits Dakotas, Minnesota

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March ended Monday with a blast of winter weather for much of the Dakotas and Minnesota, closing highways, schools and public offices across the region.

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A blizzard warning was issued for most of North Dakota, with the counties in the northwest and north-central part of the state the only exceptions. As the storm moved east, a blizzard warning also was in effect for parts of northern and west central Minnesota.

Other parts of west central Minnesota, including Willmar, were under a winter weather advisory. Rain was forecast to turn to snow and travel conditions were expected to deteriorate.

Tornado warnings in Chippewa, Lac qui Parle and Yellow Medicine counties in western Minnesota preceded the wintry weather. Damage was being assessed near St. Leo in Yellow Medicine County.

The early spring blizzard brought life in busy southwest North Dakota to a crawl Monday morning as the area was slammed with nearly a foot of heavy, wet snow and high winds.

Michael Mathews, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, said Monday that Dickinson received as much as 10 inches of snow, with Rhame, in the far southwest corner of the state, reporting 11 inches and Glen Ullin reporting 11½.

On Monday afternoon, the North Dakota Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol closed Interstate 94 from Fargo to Bismarck and Interstate 29 from Fargo to the Canadian border.

The closures were due to zero visibility and snow-covered roads causing hazardous driving conditions.

“Conditions out here are about as bad as it can get,” said Lt. David Wolf of the Highway Patrol.

U.S. Highway 2 was closed from Devils Lake to Grand Forks, N.D., and no travel was advised for most of northwest Minnesota.

The National Weather Service in Grand Forks reported winds gusting over 50 mph along and west of the Red River Valley. The northern part of the valley was bracing for up to 20 inches of snow.

The storm system was bringing high winds to the Bemidji, Minn., area, where 3 to 5 inches of snow was forecast, according to the National Weather Service.

The blizzard warning for the region was to remain in effect until 7 a.m. today.

More snow was forecast for areas farther north. International Falls could see 12 to 15 inches and Lake of the Woods 15 to 20 inches.

In central Minnesota, snowfall totals were expected to be lower, but with sleet and freezing rain mixing in. The Brainerd lakes area expected 1 to 3 inches of snow and up to a quarter-inch of ice.

Northeast Minnesota was getting rain, but there was concern that it may freeze on roadways, sidewalks and trees.

The rain was expected to turn to all snow early this morning, with an inch or two of accumulation in the Duluth area.

Six to 10 inches of snow was forecast along the North and South Dakota border.

Phil Schumacher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, S.D., said that by midafternoon Monday the storm had caused near white-out conditions farther south near Kimball and Chamberlain, where snowfall totals were smaller.

In North Dakota’s Dunn County, Emergency Manager Denise Brew said she was worried not only about people on the roads, but also ranchers in the midst of calving season.

The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association had issued an advisory for livestock producers, telling them to be wary of the storm in the wake of last October’s blizzard, which killed thousands of cattle in western South Dakota and southwest North Dakota.

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