Fargo, Grand Forks break snowfall recordsFARGO – Road crews will work overtime and most students will get the day off today after a blizzard paralyzed much of southeast North Dakota and west-central Minnesota on Sunday, dumping more than a foot of snow on some areas and clogging interstate highways with 4-foot-high drifts.
By: Mike Nowatzki, INFORUM
FARGO – Road crews will work overtime and most students will get the day off today after a blizzard paralyzed much of southeast North Dakota and west-central Minnesota on Sunday, dumping more than a foot of snow on some areas and clogging interstate highways with 4-foot-high drifts.
Officials closed I-29 from Grand Forks to Watertown, S.D., and I-94 from Jamestown, N.D., to Alexandria, Minn., as icy roads and near-whiteout conditions sent dozens of vehicles sliding into ditches.
They remained closed this morning.
The blizzard in the eastern Dakotas broke some longstanding weather records.
Here's the National Weather Service preliminary snowfall totals.
In North Dakota, Fargo set a record with 9.3 inches of snow, breaking the city's 60-year-old record of 3.1 inches. Grand Forks had 4.8 inches, breaking its record for Feb. 10 of 3.1 inches, set 18 years ago.
The National Weather Service says in South Dakota, Aberdeen had 8.4 inches of snow Sunday, breaking the city's record for the date of 3.4 inches set 65 years ago. Huron had 9 inches, breaking that city's 54-year-old record of 4.9 inches.
As of 7 a.m., the National Weather Service official observer measured 9.7 inches of snow that fell in Fargo.
The Cass County Sheriff’s Office opened its Tactical Operations Center because of the number of stranded motorists and calls for emergency assistance.
As of 10 p.m., the center had received a few medical calls that required snowplow escorts, but otherwise no reports of serious injury accidents in Cass County, said Sgt. Tara Morris, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office.
“Hopefully people will just stay home and hunker down for the remainder of the storm,” she said.
Authorities rescued about a dozen motorists stranded on I-29 about 20 miles south of Fargo. Several spent the night at a community center in Colfax, N.D., while two Highway Patrol SUVs hauled four others to Fargo with two snowplows leading the way, patrol Sgt. Troy Hischer said.
“Almost all of them said they left Fargo and didn’t know the road was closed,” Hischer said, adding, “They shouldn’t be out here.”
A car struck and damaged a road-closed barrier on the I-29 off-ramp at 32nd Avenue South in Fargo shortly after the interstate was closed.
A blanket of heavy snow 18 inches thick and drifts up to 4 feet high made I-29 impassible for the average motorist, said Hischer, who also was stranded until the plows arrived.
“We’re only going like 4 mph; that’s how bad the roads are,” he said.
With winds blowing at 25 to 35 mph, the interstate was drifting shut five minutes after plows went through, he said.
“I would say we’d be lucky to see it open by noon (today), because the snow is unbelievably deep down here,” he said. “When it’s as high as the windows on your SUV as the plow is busting through, it’s going to take a while to open it up.”
‘Slow going’ today
Fargo Public Works Director Ben Dow called it the worst snowstorm since a two-day blizzard that led to a major pileup on I-94 west of West Fargo on Dec. 30, 2010.
Street crews were making their third pass through Fargo’s emergency routes at 8 p.m. and had yet to touch residential areas except south of 40th Avenue South, where officials were concerned the streets would be too plugged to plow if they waited until morning.
Dow said primary and secondary roads should be in good shape this morning. He hoped to divert plows into residential areas starting at 4 or 5 a.m.
“But it’s going to be slow going. We’ve got a lot of snow out there,” he said, adding, “Some things might take us until (Monday) night to get through.”
Metro-area schools canceled classes today, as did dozens of districts across southeast North Dakota and west-central Minnesota. North Dakota State University and Minnesota State University Moorhead told students to stay home. Concordia College planned to open at noon.
A blizzard warning remains in effect until noon today for southeast North Dakota and west-central Minnesota. No travel was advised in the warning area or in the F-M metro area and rural Cass and Clay counties until conditions improve.
Snowfall is expected to taper off by 4 or 5 a.m. today, with winds diminishing later this morning or in the afternoon, National Weather Service meteorologist Jennifer Ritterling said.
Sunday’s treacherous travel conditions convinced truck driver Gale Evin of Warren, Minn., to cut his route short for the day after driving from Grand Forks to Fargo. He said he “almost lost it” near Argusville on icy I-29 before officials closed that stretch.
“I was supposed to go out to Jamestown with a load of French fries, but I figured I’d pull off here and wait ’til tomorrow,” he said while passing the time at the Stamart Travel Plaza in north Fargo.
The wind-driven snow didn’t deter NDSU students David Ballard, Vanessa Karels and Jon Hopkins from standing on the corner of 12th Avenue North and University Drive and trying to raise money for Nokomis Child Care Center. The Freeze-A-Thon fundraiser started at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, just before the storm hit.
“I can’t even keep my eyes open,” Ballard said as he squinted into the north wind.
Snow piles up
Unofficial snowfall reports from the metro area included 9.1 inches in south Fargo as of 7 p.m. and 10.5 inches in West Fargo as of 6 p.m. The National Weather Service’s official co-op observer for the metro area, who takes measurements in north Moorhead, reported 9 inches as of about 9 p.m., with snow still coming down, Ritterling said.
John Wheeler, chief meteorologist at WDAY-TV, said snow measurements taken by residents in the metro area may not be accurate because of the urban area’s snow-fence effect. People may have measured a lot in their driveway, but a few miles away a field may have been swept clean by the blizzard-strength winds, he said.
Other totals reported to the weather service included 13.5 inches at 5 p.m. in Cayuga in southeast North Dakota’s Sargent County, 14.5 inches at 2:30 p.m. in Colfax and 13 inches at 4:30 p.m. near Pelican Rapids, Minn.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528
MATBUS, Paratransit to start late today
FARGO – Metro Area Transit buses and MAT Paratransit services plan to start three hours late today, beginning at 9:15 a.m.
The Ground Transportation Center is scheduled to open at 9 a.m.
Because of the closure of North Dakota State University, Routes 31, 32, 33 and 35 will not operate today. Routes 13 and 34 will run.
Daytime service will not be provided on Route 13U, but evening service on 13U will be offered.
MATBUS officials will assess weather and road conditions early this morning, and additional route cancellations will be announced if they become necessary. In a news release, MATBUS asked that riders adjust their plans to accommodate delays.
MATBUS also may decide to use its snow detour routes, which are available for viewing at matbus.com. That decision will be publicized if made.
Forum staff reports