Treacherous travel: Freezing rain, snow and wind create problems Tuesday for motorists

WILLMAR -- Freezing rain followed by a heavy dose of snow and northwest winds that gusted to 35 mph caused travel problems Tuesday in west central Minnesota.

Briana Sanchez / Tribune Eric Lottman, county facilities maintenance supervisor, salts the sidewalks around noon Tuesday by the Kandiyohi County Courthouse in downtown Willmar.

WILLMAR - Freezing rain followed by a heavy dose of snow and northwest winds that gusted to 35 mph caused travel problems Tuesday in west central Minnesota.

Nearly 30 schools in the region sent students home early because of the weather and deteriorating driving conditions.

Students in the Willmar, New London-Spicer, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City and Paynesville school districts were sent home after lunch.

Students in Brooten-Belgrade-Elrosa, Benson and Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg districts, as well as nearly 20 other districts to the west, closed in the morning.

Despite state maintenance crews being out in force starting at 3 a.m. Tuesday, putting salt and sand on icy highways and blading off 3 to 4 inches of new snow, travel conditions were dangerous for much of the day.


"We've got a lot of wind, a lot of drifting and the roads are very icy," said Denny Marty, maintenance supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Transportation's District 8 office in Willmar during a mid-afternoon interview Tuesday.

"We're trying to get sand on it, but the wind is blowing it off faster than we can get it on," Marty said. "We're doing what we can, but we're not gaining very much."

Problems started around 4 a.m. when freezing rain started falling in the region, which put a sheet of ice on roads.

The rain then turned to snow, which decreased visibility and increased slick travel conditions.

A number of accidents, spin-outs and jack-knifed semi trucks were reported throughout the region.

Marty said he counted at least three vehicles involved in a crash Tuesday afternoon on U.S. Highway 12 East in Willmar.

While icy roads were to blame for some of the crashes, Marty said motorists need to leave adequate room between vehicles and refrain from passing other cars.

"We've got some very cautions people driving 10 mph and others trying to pass the plows and pass everybody," he said.


Snow was blowing in behind the plows, creating glare ice and "treacherous driving" conditions, Marty said.

Kandiyohi County road crews were also trying to keep roads clear throughout the day.

"The rain and the amount of snow exceeded what any of the weather services were saying," said Dave Fritz, maintenance supervisor with the Kandiyohi County Public Works Department.

The National Weather Service had issued a winter weather advisory for much of Tuesday.

Preliminary reports indicate about 3 inches of snow fell in the Willmar area with 4 inches in Renville County.

Another half-inch of snow is expected Wednesday for the region.

Marty said state highway crews were to be back out on roads at 3 a.m. Wednesday and Fritz said county crews were to begin at 5 a.m. to clear roads.

Next up on the weather scene is another cold blast with temperatures expected to be 22 below zero Thursday night with a high of 2 degrees above zero Friday.


Marty said it will be difficult to get all the ice and snow off the roads until the temperature warms up, which may not happen until Sunday.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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