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Transportation officials in southwest Minnesota literally beg people to stay home during blizzard Friday

By 2 p.m. Friday, MnDOT had issued four back-to-back notices over a 2½-hour period announcing the majority of the roads in southwest Minnesota were closed.

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A truck drives through blizzard conditions along Kandiyohi County Road 9 early in the morning on Friday, Dec. 23, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — Blizzard conditions worsened through the day Friday in southwest Minnesota, leading transportation officials to literally beg people to stay home.

“Seriously, folks. If you don't need to be out, please stay home,” Minnesota Department of Transportation District 8 tweeted Friday afternoon. “And tell your loved ones to stay home, too. There are way too many vehicles in the ditch or blocking the road in subzero temps, and we don't want that to happen to you.”

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Whiteout conditions make for difficult travel along U.S. Highway 71 at the southern edge of Willmar as blizzard conditions worsen early in the morning on Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. MnDOT had closed all highways in Kandiyohi County and all of southwest Minnesota by Friday afternoon.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

The Minnesota Department of Transportation had advised no travel overnight Thursday to Friday in all of southwest Minnesota — and officials of every stripe had been warning for days that travel would be dangerous and likely impossible from Thursday to Saturday — but crews on Friday morning were dealing with multiple vehicles stranded on highways.

By 2 p.m. Friday, MnDOT had issued four back-to-back notices over a 2½-hour period announcing the majority of the roads in southwest Minnesota were closed, from the Willmar area all the way to the South Dakota and Iowa borders.

The road closures began very early Friday.

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MnDOT District 8 announced on Twitter before 6 a.m. that state Highway 19 was closed from Marshall all the way to Fairfax due to stranded vehicles and shortly afterward that U.S. Highway 71 was closed from Olivia to state Highway 7 due to a vehicle blocking that roadway.

In a tweet posted at 10:30 a.m. Friday detailing two more road closures due to stranded vehicles, MnDOT’s District 8 said, “First responders are swamped with stalled and stranded travelers. Stay safe, stay home.”

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A photo from a Minnesota Department of Transportation camera at 3:34 p.m. Friday on U.S. Highway 212 east of Dawson, Minnesota. Highway 212 and most state highways south and southwest of Willmar were closed by MnDOT due to blizzard conditions.
Contributed / Minnesota Department of Transportation

By 11 a.m. the road closures had grown to about a dozen in District 8, which comprises 12 counties in southwest Minnesota.

MnDOT at midmorning on Friday again warned drivers that no travel was advised and that many roads were in fact closed. Stalled and stranded vehicles were blocking roadways, MnDOT said in the news release repeating the travel advisory.

Kandiyohi County pulled its snowplows off the roads by 9:30 a.m. Friday, and Meeker County pulled theirs at noon.

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A Minnesota Department of Transportation snowplow photo at 2:45 p.m. Friday on Minnesota Highway 23 between Willmar and Clara City. All the state highways south and southwest of Willmar were closed Friday afternoon, according to MnDOT's 511mn.org website.
Contributed / Minnesota Department of Transportation

Kandiyohi County Public Works Director Mel Odens said in a news release that the decision was made due to no visibility and dangerous conditions.

Snowplows were able to get across Meeker County once on Friday, according to a news release from the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office, but snow was blowing right back in behind them. Meeker County planned to try to return to plowing at 6 a.m. Saturday.

Strong winds in excess of 30 miles per hour cause blizzard conditions to residents days before Christmas.

The National Weather Service-Twin Cities warned early Friday afternoon that dangerous blizzard conditions were ongoing from west central through south central Minnesota. Widespread wind gusts of 35 to 45 mph were causing significant blowing and drifting snow.

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The blizzard warning in the Willmar area was to expire at 6 a.m. Saturday, but the National Weather Service said patchy blowing snow and lingering poor travel conditions would linger into Saturday, and another round of light snow was forecast across southwest Minnesota from late Sunday into Monday morning.

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Susan Lunneborg is the news editor of the West Central Tribune in Willmar, Minnesota. A journalist for more than 25 years, she has worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers in the Dakotas and Minnesota.
Lunneborg can be reached at: slunneborg@wctib.com or 320-214-4343.
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