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March lion roars: Slow-moving storm delivers sleet, thunder ice, graupel, heavy snow and wind

Erica Dischino / Tribune A city of Willmar snowplow drives west on the 300 block of Trott Avenue Southwest in Willmar, clearing the roads during the snowstorm Monday afternoon. The late-winter storm brought everything from freezing rain to snow throughout Monday, and blustery winds added to difficult travel conditions across much of Minnesota. 1 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune A car drives down Trott Avenue Southwest in Willmar during the snowstorm Monday afternoon. 2 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune A Rice Memorial Hospital employee salts the sidewalks Monday morning near the hospital in downtown Willmar before the arrival of the snowstorm later in the afternoon. 3 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune A car drives down a slush-covered Fourth Avenue Southwest on Monday morning in downtown Willmar. Rain turned to snow throughout the day, and travel conditions deteriorated.4 / 8
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Snow covers the roads Monday afternoon in Granite Falls during the snowstorm. There were occasional lulls in the snowfall during the day Monday, but travel was not advised in areas of western Minnesota by early afternoon.5 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Teri Beyer stays warm at The Goodness Coffee House in downtown Willmar during the snowstorm Monday. Beyer, who works at Rice Memorial Hospital, was on her lunch break. “We didn’t get a snow day,” Beyer said. ‘Working at the hospital is a 24/7 job.” 6 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Darin Niemeyer, a Willmar Public Works employee, salts a sidewalk Monday in downtown Willmar in preparation for the snowstorm forecast to arrive in the afternoon. Travel was already hazardous by early afternoon in counties west of Willmar.7 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Fourth Avenue Southwest in downtown Willmar was covered with slush Monday morning before the rain turned to snow later in the day.8 / 8

WILLMAR — The roar of the March lion was heard across the state Monday as a late-winter storm hit, leaving a sheen of frozen rain on roads and dumping anywhere from 1 inch to 1 foot of snow that was whipped around with blustery winds gusting up to 35 mph.

Many schools in the region cancelled classes well in advance of the storm, which had been predicted since last week.

"It's been a really tricky storm to forecast," said Eric Ahasic, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen.

The storm moved into some regions, including Kandiyohi County, later than initially forecast but was expected to deliver the predicted 6 to 8 inches of snow here by the time it was done, Ahasic said.

"It's been a very complicated storm meteorologically," he said, with a combination of sleet, a type of "ice ball" called graupel, thunder snow, high winds and heavy wet snow that quickly piled up once the slow-moving band of storms moved into the region.

By mid-morning Monday — as icy roads and snow materialized — several businesses closed early and a long list of government, nonprofit organizations and churches cancelled or postponed activities.

Even city council meetings in Willmar and Kandiyohi were cancelled because of the weather, and Willmar and Kandiyohi County both shut down all non-essential services Monday afternoon.

Crews from the Minnesota Department of Transportation were doing their best to keep ahead of ice and snow accumulation, said Tim McCoy, maintenance supervisor at the District 8 office in Willmar.

"Everything has just turned white on us," McCoy said, during a brief interview Monday afternoon just as he was about to update MnDOT's 511 map to the pink "completely covered" status for the central part of the district and purple for "no travel advised" for the far western region.

McCoy said plows were scraping roads and treating high-hazard areas such as intersections, but that visibility was becoming a challenge for plow operators.

Several plows in the far western part of the state were pulled off the road for a few hours Monday afternoon because of visibility issues and "no travel" advisories were issued there because of the blizzard-like conditions. By early Monday evening, plows returned to the roads and the travel advisory was lifted, although MnDOT warned that travel was still difficult.

In other areas, MnDOT advised drivers to slow down, keep their headlights on and to give snowplows plenty of room. McCoy said for the most part, drivers were heeding that advice.

Ahasic said some light snow will linger in the region Tuesday morning with about an inch of additional accumulation.

Winds will still be strong Tuesday, at 15 to 20 mph, but because the snow will be wet and heavy, Ahasic said drifting wouldn't be as big a concern as if the snow was light and fluffy.

He said it will stay chilly this week but could start to warm up by the weekend.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750
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