FARGO — After winds that had been gusting up to 60 mph blew fluffy snow around and clogged roads in the Fargo area throughout much of the day Friday, they began to die down with a lull of several hours as night rolled around, providing a slight reprieve.
However, don't be fooled, said National Weather Service meteorologist Vince Goedon and WDAY meteorologist John Wheeler early Friday night, Jan. 17. They said the winds were expected to switch from the southeast to the northwest overnight, leaving a blizzard warning in effect until 6 p.m. Saturday across the Red River Valley.
Goedon said it was "kind of unique" for a blizzard — the third of the winter season — to hit this area with the wind coming from the southeast.
Wheeler said the winds that switch to the northwest on Saturday could be just as strong as they were from the southeast on Friday.
No travel was advised across much of the region, even in parts of the cities of Fargo and Moorhead where snowdrifts were developing as fast as plows could get to them. Residents in both cities were asked to refrain from parking on emergency snow routes, and schools and businesses closed across the region.
North Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Bryan Niewind said Interstate 29 from Fargo to the South Dakota border was closed at 5 p.m. and would be closed all the way to Sioux Falls at 7 p.m. With less snow falling to the north, he said, I-29 was open north of Fargo as of Friday evening.
He doesn't expect I-29 in southeastern North Dakota to reopen until after the winds die down later Saturday.
Niewind and other troopers had their hands full throughout the day as he said the freezing drizzle that started in the late morning hours was the main cause of 24 crashes in the Fargo area and why more than 30 vehicles ended up in the ditch along the interstates.
A state snowplow was hit on Friday when a plow stopped on the exit ramp from I-29 onto Main Avenue in Fargo was rear-ended by another vehicle.
Roads are slick in the Red River Valley on I-94 and I-29. Pics are from earlier today of a @NDDOTFargo plow being struck, taking it out of commission. Conditions are now deteriorating. Please stay this evening. It’s not worth traveling. Tomorrow won’t be better #NDHP294 pic.twitter.com/4YGYLtQ5IN
Roads are slick in the Red River Valley on I-94 and I-29. Pics are from earlier today of a @NDDOTFargo plow being struck, taking it out of commission. Conditions are now deteriorating. Please stay this evening. It’s not worth traveling. Tomorrow won’t be better #NDHP294 pic.twitter.com/4YGYLtQ5IN— Captain Bryan Niewind - SE Region Commander (@Capt_Niewind) January 17, 2020
"It's not worth traveling," Niewind tweeted after the crash, adding, "Tomorrow won't be better."
Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner said his deputies helped highway patrol with the heavy workload and rescued two people earlier in the day who were stranded as they attempted to reach another vehicle that was stuck north of Fargo.
The sheriff said they attempted to reach the vehicle with the department's new front-mounted snow blade on a pickup, but the snow got too deep so they had to use snowmobiles.
However, as night fell, he said they hadn't had to perform any other rescues. Jahner said the snow was blowing across some of the paved county highways, but noted that gravel roads were in worse shape. He also warned of visibility issues especially as nightfall arrived.
Snowfall was expected to end in the early morning hours Saturday, but Wheeler said winds from the northwest will create a ground blizzard across much of the area, making travel difficult.
He expects about 3 to 5 inches of snow in the Valley during the blizzard.
Snow totals were expected to be heavier in western Minnesota with the Bemidji, Park Rapids and Fergus Falls areas getting an estimated 6 to 8 inches. Snowfall was expected to be lighter to the west of the Valley with only from 1 to 5 inches in the Valley City and Jamestown areas.
Temperatures were mild and in the 20s on Friday, but Wheeler said they would start dropping when the northwest winds kicked in early Saturday, dropping them into the single digits.
Sunday and Monday will remain chilly, with lighter winds and a high around zero degrees. The rest of next week looks like a longer-lasting reprieve, with temps climbing back into the 20s and "no storms in sight," Wheeler said.