Blizzard wallops region, causing travel issues, business closures and numerous cancellations
FARGO — Friends Mary McManus and Jim Schott were gazing out the window of the HoDo Lounge in downtown Fargo sipping hot cider late Thursday afternoon as strong north winds whipped an estimated 8 to 10 inches of snow around.
Outside it was officially being called a blizzard, according to the National Weather Service.
However, McManus and Schott were thinking about where they were going next after traveling from JL Beers in south Fargo to downtown in Schott's four-wheel drive Jeep.
"The main roads were good, but traffic was moving pretty slow" said Schott as plows were still clearing Fargo streets as of late afternoon. "But the side roads looked full of snow. We saw a few people stuck."
Just down the street, Andy Kays of AmeriPride Services was making his second-to-the-last pickup of the day after making 27 stops in the brisk and snowy weather.
"Only one or two of my stops were closed today," Kays said. "So it was a pretty lucky day."
He said the roads were "not nice."
They were even worse out in the country, where the Minnesota Department of Transportation reported several semi-trucks in the ditches along Interstate 94 in the Moorhead area late Thursday afternoon as winds gusted up to 39 mph.
MnDOT said they weren't anticipating closing any highways or interstates, but said there might be several brief lane or road closures where crashes occur.
Minnesota plows were still out on the roads as of late Thursday afternoon.
Across the border in North Dakota, the state transportation department issued a No Travel Advisory just after 4 p.m. for eastern North Dakota, including the cities of Jamestown, Valley City, Wahpeton, Fargo, Grand Forks and surrounding areas.
The advisory meant motorists should not travel in those areas, although roads weren't officially closed. NDDOT said motorists could encounter heavy snowdrifts where there are structures and sheltered areas, with some roadways reduced to one lane due to heavy winds.
A travel alert was issued for the Bismarck and Devils Lake areas due to reduced visibility and snow fog creating whiteout conditions when meeting and passing vehicles.
WDAY meteorologist John Wheeler said conditions could worsen through the night.
He said there was more than 8 inches of snow by midday in the Fargo area, and he expected another 2 to 4 inches through the night.
"But we aren't going to get another 8 inches," he said.
The wind was coming up, however, and Wheeler said winds up to 41 mph in Grand Forks were reported in the early afternoon.
Wheeler said there could be gusts as high as 50 mph in the region with the peak winds into the night and early Friday morning.
The winds "should slowly relax during the day on Friday, but we'll have blowing snow for most of the day" making travel in the open country difficult.
The winds would wind down to 10 to 20 mph by Friday night, he said.
However, with temperatures dropping and the winds from 25 mph to 35 mph during the day Friday, the wind chills were expected to be in the 20 to 30 below range. Temps were also dropping to the teens below zero overnight Friday before rising on Saturday during the day as winds will switch to the south bringing temps into the 30s by Sunday.
Until then, though, the blizzard was making travel during the holiday break difficult and shutting down most school and church activities, health facilities, banks and businesses in the region by noon or earlier on Thursday. West Acres Shopping Center in Fargo was closed and more than 10 flights to Hector International Airport were canceled Thursday.
Fargo-Moorhead metro area buses shut down about 2:15 p.m. on Thursday, with plans to open routes again Friday morning by 7:15 a.m.
However, a major wrestling tournament at the Fargodome was still on for Friday and the weekend.
Organizer Steve Saxlund said some teams arrived as early as Wednesday and some were trickling in still on Thursday. He said one team from Minneapolis arrived Thursday and told him roads weren't too bad until about 40 miles from Moorhead on I-94.
Saxlund said only 20 out of 88 teams had backed out due to the weather. Wrestling starts at about 3:30 p.m. Friday, he said, and the only change in the schedule was that weigh-ins were delayed from early Friday morning to 2 p.m.
The National Weather Service said the blizzard warning was in effect until 6 a.m. Friday for southeast North Dakota, and northwest and west-central Minnesota. The NWS said frostbite can occur on exposed skin within 30 minutes during the blizzard.