Valentine's Day blizzard leaves hundreds stranded for hours outside Moorhead, Fargo

Around 200 motorists were stuck on Interstate 94 in northwest Minnesota, with some sitting in vehicles for 14 hours.

A snowplow moves snow in front of semis and cars.
A North Dakota Department of Transportation snowplow removes snow in front of stranded vehicles on Interstate 94 north of Fargo on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023.
Contributed / Capt. Bryan Niewind

MOORHEAD — Valentine's Day was not so romantic for people trapped in more than 300 vehicles near Fargo-Moorhead late Tuesday night, Feb. 14.

Billowing snow and fierce winds trapped the drivers and passengers for hours, prompting Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz to activate the Minnesota National Guard around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday to provide emergency relief.

Minnesota National Guard Lt. Col. Kristen Auge said one small unit support vehicle was sent out to help stranded motorists, but the vehicle broke down en route.

“So, they never were able to help the stranded motorist. That was it. That was this morning at 1 o’clock. When the governor’s office sent out the declaration, everything was done already,” she said.

A deputy's emergency lights illuminate the left side of the photo. At right, several vehicles sit unmoving on a highway. At least one has entered the ditch.
Vehicles are stranded on stretch of Interstate 94 from Moorhead to Fergus Falls on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.
Contributed / Sgt. Jesse Grabow

At about 3 p.m. Wednesday, sheriff’s deputies and other rescue workers were still busy helping clear the roads.


The Clay County Sheriff's Department worked to clear about 200 vehicles that were stuck on Interstate 94, the area most impacted by the blizzard, Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow said.

“When the winter storm hit last night at about 8 o'clock, it caused whiteout conditions, and traffic came to a literal standstill. With folks unable to see, they stopped where they were at, and it was a traffic jam in a snowstorm,” Grabow said.

Snowdrifts piled around parked cars, and some people were unable to leave their vehicles for up to 14 hours, well into the next day, he said.

A State Trooper vehicle is parked on the shoulder near a Uhaul truck pulling a trailer, which is far off the road in a snowy ditch.
East of Moorhead on Interstate 94 early Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, vehicles and people were still stuck in the ditch after a snowstorm struck the Red River Valley late Tuesday.
Contributed / Sgt. Jesse Grabow

Those stuck used fuel to keep their heaters on, and when people ran out of gasoline, sheriff's deputies and troopers helped ensure their safety.

“We had 200 vehicles, maybe more, and troopers kept checking on them throughout the night and the morning. Some ran out of fuel, and they gave them rides off the freeway to the next little town hotel or gas station,” Grabow said.

Emergency lights light up the area where a semi has jack-knifed into the median along a highway.
A semi is stuck in the ditch along Interstate 94 east of Moorhead late Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.
Contributed / Sgt. Jesse Grabow

Another highly impacted area was along Highway 10, where about 100 vehicles were stuck due to poor visibility, with many ending up at the Petro Serve USA in Glyndon, Grabow said. Most of the vehicles weren’t actually stuck but were forced to stop behind cars that had become mired in ice and blowing snow, he noted.

Nobody was hurt in any crashes, and nobody suffered injuries from extreme cold that dropped to about negative 15 degrees overnight, he said.

With winds that gusted up to 60 mph, the temperature early Wednesday felt like negative 30 degrees, according to WDAY meteorologists.


Other roads that were severely impacted by the storm in Minnesota included Highway 210, U.S. Highway 77, U.S. Highway 2 and Minnesota Highway 200.

In North Dakota, Interstate 29, I-94, North Dakota Highway 13, U.S. Highway 2 and Highway 200A were affected.

All highways in both states reopened by Wednesday afternoon.

Several vehicles sit stranded on a snow-covered road near an underpass.
Vehicles line a highway where blizzard conditions left many people stranded Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, Feb. 14-15, 2023.

A North Dakota Highway Patrol vehicle was struck on I-29 Wednesday while conducting clearing operations with the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

Around 12:50 p.m., a 2003 Honda Odyssey van rear-ended the patrol vehicle going about 75 mph on the closed interstate, according to a press release from the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

The trooper was trying to get drivers to exit off I-29 at the exit near Gardner, about 20 miles north of Fargo, at the time of the crash, the Highway Patrol said.

A North Dakota Highway Patrol vehicle after a rear-end crash near Gardner on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023.
Photo via North Dakota Highway Patrol

No one was injured in the crash, and the incident is under investigation, according to the press release.

Tuesday night, a Cass County sheriff’s deputy couldn’t see a stranded vehicle even though it was a quarter-mile away. The deputy also became stuck, so the Sheriff’s Office activated its snowmobile unit to assist, the Sheriff’s Office said.


The snowmobile unit rescued the stranded motorist, who was out of gas, and brought them to a safe location.

A pickup sits tilted into the ditch while blowing snow obscures almost everything else.
A lone truck is stranded early Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, after a blizzard caused hazardous travel conditions in Cass and Clay counties.

Schools in the metro area were also affected by the storm, with Fargo Public Schools canceling classes and West Fargo and Moorhead public schools opting for e-learning days.
Hockey fans leave the Fargo Coliseum in blizzard conditions on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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