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MnDOT District 8 advises prospective travelers to stay home through Saturday

With a winter storm underway, and blizzard conditions forecast for Thursday, the message from the Minnesota Department of Transportation is "stay home." District 8 Superintendent Lonnie Hoffman says weather conditions may be life-threatening for travelers who become stranded on the side of the road or in a ditch.

MnDOT Snow Plow 122122 001.jpg
A Minnesota Department of Transportation snowplow clears snow from Minnesota Highway 23 north of Spicer as a winter storm system moves through Kandiyohi County on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — With life-threatening travel conditions expected throughout the next few days, it is advised that those who live within the Minnesota Department of Transportation's District 8 territory stay home and not travel until Saturday, according to District 8 Superintendent Lonnie Hoffman.

“If people can stay home, stay home, that’s number one,” he said. “With the temperatures and snow we are seeing now, if you go in the ditch, you’re in trouble.”

District 8 is responsible for keeping 2,984 lane miles of state and federal highways maintained and safe in 12 counties in southwestern Minnesota — Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Lincoln, Lyon, McLeod, Meeker, Murray, Pipestone, Redwood, Renville and Yellow Medicine.

Minnesota Hwy 9 east of Sunburg 12.21.22.v2.jpg
Here is the view from a Minnesota Department of Transportation snowplow at about 4:47 p.m. Wedneday along state Highway 9, east of Sunburg, Minnesota.
Contributed / Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Although District 8 has 51 snowplows to keep the roads clear, with the amount of snow and the temperatures District 8 will be experiencing, the goal is to plow and scrape and keep any accumulation as thin as possible, according to Hoffman.

He explained that salt and other chemicals do not work to keep the roads clear in these weather conditions.

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Snowplow drivers will be on the road as long as possible to help keep the roads clear, he added, noting that they are considered emergency personnel and are allowed to work 24 hours straight. However, District 8 drivers are typically not expected to work more than 16 hours without a break for safety reasons.
Snowplow routes in District 8 can vary from as few as 30 miles in the Willmar proper area to 100 miles or more in western portions of the district, according to Hoffman. This may mean that a route takes a snowplow two to four hours to complete, which is why some people complain about “never seeing a snowplow” in bad weather, he said.

District 8 uses National Weather Service forecasts to plan for snow and ice events, according to District 8 Public Affairs Coordinator Sandra Schlagel.

According to the most recent forecast, District 8 is expecting up to 8 inches of fluffy snow with a break in the snow sometime between Wednesday and Thursday. Blizzard conditions are possible midday Thursday through early Saturday due to 20- to 30-mile-per-hour winds, with gusts up to 40 miles per hour.

The frigid temperatures of -25 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit expected Thursday through Friday night can be life-threatening for anyone who travels and ends up in the ditch or has their car become disabled, according to Hoffman.

A graphic that shows the areas around a snow plow that a snow plow driver cannot see while driving.
This graphic shows the areas surrounding a snowplow which a snowplow driver cannot see while driving.
Contributed / Minnesota Department of Transportation

The weather conditions and advisories against traveling also mean the snowplow drivers may be some of the only people who will be out on the roads to rescue anyone who ends up in the ditch or whose vehicle becomes disabled, Hoffman noted.

For those who are traveling in these types of weather conditions, they are advised to be cautious while approaching a snowplow and to stay back 10 car lengths, especially because snowplows can make unexpected turns and movements, according to Schlagel.
In the types of conditions District 8 will be experiencing the next few days, snowplows are traveling about 30 miles per hour, Hoffman said.

Minnesota Hwy 9 east of Sunburg 12.21.22.jpg
Here is the view from a Minnesota Department of Transportation snowplow at about 3 p.m. Wedneday along state Highway 9, east of Sunburg, Minnesota. This show how the driver's vision can be difficult at times.
Contributed / Minnesota Department of Transportation

When applying chemicals or when the snow is more wet and heavy, snowplows can be going as slow as or slower than 20 miles per hour.

Although snowplow trucks have cameras in front and in back, it is “virtually impossible” for snowplow drivers to see other vehicles due to the numerous blind spots on a plow truck and the cloud of snow thrown out by snowplows, Hoffman said.
A snowplow driver typically does not even see a vehicle that is passing the snowplow until the vehicle is in front of the plow truck, he noted.

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There’s an app for that

Those who are planning to travel and want to check road conditions, whether it be due to bad weather or construction, can check out 511mn.org or download the 511 application to their phone.

511 allows travelers to choose from all kinds of information, including critical disruptions and road reports, winter driving conditions and weather warnings. The application and website also allow users to see views of snowplow cameras and stationary road cameras.

Other options on 511 include trucker reports, seeing the weather radar and traffic speeds, and seeing the locations of future road construction, rest areas, weigh stations and electronic road signs.

Jennifer Kotila is a reporter for West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota. She focuses on local government, specifically the City of Willmar, and business.

She can be reached via email at: jkotila@wctrib.com or phone at 320-214-4339.
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