Winter weather brings a holiday to some students, cold feet to others

WILLMAR -- A two-day winter storm gave thousands of area students an extended holiday, but for many others it offered only cold feet. Power was restored before noon Tuesday for rural electric consumers with the Minnesota Valley Power and Light As...

WILLMAR -- A two-day winter storm gave thousands of area students an extended holiday, but for many others it offered only cold feet.

Power was restored before noon Tuesday for rural electric consumers with the Minnesota Valley Power and Light Association serving portions of Chippewa, Yellow Medicine and Lac qui Parle counties. Crews worked through the night Monday into Tuesday morning to make it possible, according to John Williamson, manager of operations for the rural electric cooperative.

Williamson said the decision to "bust the wind'' and continue restoration efforts in the heart of the storm paid off. He said the crews would return to the field today for continued storm-related maintenance, but customers should not experience any outages.

At its worst, the storm knocked out power to an estimated 2,000 of the cooperative's consumers on Monday night. Overall, nearly all 5,000 of the cooperative's rural consumers experienced some interruption in service through the course of the storm.

The storm knocked down transmission line poles and coated many power lines with ice. Winds gusting at over 40 miles an hour whipped the ice-coated lines, causing them to "dance'' and interrupt service throughout portions of the network, he said.


The winds and ice-compacted roads led to dozens of school cancellations in the region. Superintendent Robert Munsterman, Lac qui Parle Valley, said the decision to call the district's second snow day of the season was made shortly after daylight on Tuesday.

Munsterman said strong winds whipped the 5 inches of snow that fell in the Madison area into hard-packed drifts on rural roads. Visibility was very limited, and plows were not going to open rural roads until the winds subsided, he added.

Sheriff Scott Mattison of Swift County described travel conditions on Tuesday as "treacherous'' on some roads in the western portion of the county.

The roads were coated by compacted ice and visibility was extremely limited due to blowing snow, he said.

The worst travel conditions in this region were found on roads west and south of Clara City, according to Denny Marty with the Minnesota Department of Transportation's District 8 office in Willmar.

Marty said plows were to return to the roads at 3 a.m. today to continue cleaning up after the storm.

Plows will have a difficult time removing the compacted ice and snow that still covers roads west and south of Clara City, he warned. Today's forecast calls for continued snow in the area, which already saw 4 to 6 inches fall Monday.

Winds on Tuesday were whipping as much as 6 inches of snow that fell in Montevideo. Snowfall amounts ranged from 4 to 5 inches in the Granite Falls to Madison area. Snowfall amounts to the east were less, with totals from 1 to 2.5 inches in the Willmar to Litchfield area.


Motorists on city streets in Willmar found "normal, winter-type conditions,'' according to Mel Odens, public works director in Willmar. He said the city spread sand and salt on the roads before the temperatures fell on Monday and were able to prevent a buildup of ice. A snow emergency was declared for early Wednesday morning to allow plowing crews to clear the downtown area starting at 2 a.m. Crews from the Kandiyohi County Highway Department began plowing 1,150 miles of county and township roads at 5 a.m. Tuesday. Aside from occasional snow drifts alongside groves of trees and intermittent slippery spots, the roads were in good shape, said Dave Fritz, maintenance engineer.

"South of Willmar was the slipperiest," said Fritz. Wind in that part of the county affects road conditions more than the northern areas, he said.

With all of the department's 22 vehicles on the road, it took crews about six hours to cover the territory. "It was just a matter of cleaning them up," he said. "We lucked out."

Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog said there had been no accidents reported in the county Tuesday morning. "So far it's been good," said Hartog.

With school and events cancelled throughout the region, many motorists were heeding advice to avoid unnecessary travel and stay off the roads. Barry Johannides, manager of Prairie's Edge Casino Resort, said the poor travel conditions meant business slowed on Monday.

The storm never dimmed the lights at Prairie's Edge, however. At the request of Minnesota Valley Power and Light, Prairie's Edge fired up its backup generators and continued its operations unimpeded through the storm.

Johannides said the storm led many customers and some employees on Monday to stay in the motel and wait for better travel conditions on Tuesday.

That's exactly what was on the mind of some 40-plus truck drivers who parked their rigs on Monday evening at Donner's Crossroads in Clara City. Manager Tony Donner said truck drivers heading west began pulling their rigs in for the night at 3 p.m. Monday. They were back on the road at daybreak on Tuesday.


"I hope this isn't a sign of things to come or it will be a long winter,'' said Donner.

One of the truckers called Donner back after reaching his home outside of Watertown, S.D. The trucker said he arrived home only to learn he would be without electricity for five days due to the downed power lines in that area.

-- Staff Writer Carolyn Lange contributed to this story.

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