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Winter arrives late but in earnest

WILLMAR -- As the saying goes, winter arrived late but in earnest.Law enforcement agencies in the area responded to numerous reports of vehicles in ditches and accidents Wednesday as a winter storm delivered a triple punch of ice, snow and strong...

U.S. Highway 71/Minnesota Highway 23 bypass
A car is towed Wednesday morning after it went off the road into the median striking the cable safety fence on the U.S. Highway 71/Minnesota Highway 23 bypass. (RAND MIDDLETON | TRIBUNE)

WILLMAR - As the saying goes, winter arrived late but in earnest.
Law enforcement agencies in the area responded to numerous reports of vehicles in ditches and accidents Wednesday as a winter storm delivered a triple punch of ice, snow and strong winds.
“Terrible’’ is how Montevideo Police Chief Adam Christopher described road conditions after he completed a trip Wednesday from Willmar to Montevideo on state Highways 23 and 7. One of the area’s worst stretches of roadway proved to be highway 7 east of Montevideo, where a number of vehicles were pulled from the ditch and one two-vehicle crash occurred.
Three people were injured in a crash Wednesday on U.S. Highway 71 near County Road 3 by the former Svea schoolhouse in Kandiyohi County. Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog said icy roads and strong winds were a factor in a number of accidents around the county. The area south of Willmar appeared to experience the greater number of reports, but problems were widespread. The State Patrol reported a two-vehicle crash without injuries near Hawick at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday.
“True winter driving conditions,’’said Sheriff Hartog of the situation in Kandiyohi County. He urged motorists to slow down and use caution, and to make sure they turn their headlights on. He encountered a number of vehicles failing to do so despite wind-whipped snows that reduced visibility.
Blowing snow and whiteout conditions made travel dangerous in portions of Renville County as well. By late afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office was urging no unnecessary travel due to the conditions.
The low-pressure system that delivered the storm sent a wave of rain through the region at the start of the day. Temperatures dropped below freezing around mid-morning, turning the rain into snow and glazing the slush-covered roads with an icy coating. Winds that gusted up to 30 miles per hour in some open areas caused near white-out conditions in some locations.
The greatest snowfall amounts were reported to the west. Dawson measured somewhere between 8 and 10 inches. As of late afternoon Wednesday, Dawson Police Chief Andy Stock said no major accidents had been reported, but there were cars in ditches and at least one semi-trailer rig had jackknifed east of town.
The Dawson-Boyd, Lac qui Parle Valley and Canby school districts cancelled classes before the start of the day. The Montevideo, Yellow Medicine East, MACCRAY and BOLD school districts were among those sending students home early.
Superintendent Luther Heller said the Montevideo Schools began the day two hours late. As the morning progressed, the rain was replaced by snow squalls. Concerns about visibility as the winds picked up led to the decision to send students home right after lunch was served.
Most evening activities throughout the region were canceled.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation had spread salt in anticipation of the storm, but the heavy rains that arrived as the day began washed much of it away, said Mandi Lighthizer-Schmidt, communications coordinator for the District 8 office in Willmar.
She said snowplows were out throughout the day, and would continue to work the area highways until 10:30 p.m. They were going to return to the roads at 3 a.m. to clear them for the Thursday morning commute.

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