Freezing rain and snow pummel Albert Lea (Updated)

Published 9:24 am Sunday, February 20, 2011

After a brief taste of spring last week, Mother Nature decided to remind us that winter’s not over yet as the area remains in the throes of yet another winter storm.

The National Weather Service has extended a winter storm warning for Freeborn County through noon Monday. By Sunday night, the area had received 4 inches of new snow. Up to 6 inches of snow was expected to fall across the county before the storm moved out.

By Sunday afternoon, the Minnesota State Patrol was advising no travel on several roads across south central Minnesota.  Travel was not advised on Highways 65 or 69, along Interstate 35 between the Iowa state line and Exit 76 near Elko New Market, and along Interstate 90 between Alden and Dexter. Heavy snow, limited visibilities and freezing rain followed by snow has made roads slick and driving hazardous.

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A half-hour traffic delay was reported in the northbound lanes of Interstate 35, north of Albert Lea near New Richland Exit 26, around 3 p.m. as four cars had slid off in the ditch.

A mix of wintry weather was wreaking havoc all through the Midwest on Sunday. Areas from Montevideo to the Twin Cities and across to Eau Claire, Wisc., were expected to receive as much as 10 to 15 inches of new snow.

The Associated Press reported hundreds of flights at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport were canceled Sunday afternoon. Delta reportedly canceled 700 flights and other airlines had thinned out their schedules. An airport spokeswoman advised travelers to check with their airline before going to the airport, as they expected the airport to be down to one runway by the end of the day.

Flights in Detroit, Mich., and Chicago, Ill., were also canceled due to the winter storm, which spanned from Montana to Michigan as it moved east.

Precipitation started early Sunday morning in Albert Lea with freezing rain and sleet. By 10 a.m., however, about three inches of snow covered the ground. By 11 a.m., the snow had changed back to freezing rain and sleet, and thunder was heard rumbling through.

Freezing rain and sleet, followed by snow at times, continued throughout Sunday evening. Total sleet accumulation of 3 to 7 inches was possible by Sunday night, followed by the chance for another 2 to 4 inches of new snow before tapering off Monday morning.

While Albert Lea street crews were out plowing and sanding Sunday morning, they were fighting a losing battle before 10 a.m. as thick, heavy snowflakes rapidly fell from the sky. Streets remained slick with slush and ice under fresh snow.

Temperatures held steady around 27 degrees at about 8 p.m. Sunday night, with east winds blowing in around 10 mph. Visibility was 4 miles at that time, which was better than the quarter-mile reported Sunday morning when heavy snow was falling.

Patchy blowing snow is expected Monday morning with a chance of snow into the afternoon. Less than one inch of snow is expected on Monday. Cloudy skies and a high of near 20 degrees is expected on Monday. North northeast wind between 13 and 18 mph are predicted, with gusts as high as 26 mph.

–The Associated Press contributed to this story.