Blizzard descends on Freeborn County

Published 12:57 pm Thursday, January 8, 2015

A pickup hauling a trailer begins to pass traffic on eastbound Interstate 90 east of Alden. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

A pickup hauling a trailer begins to pass traffic on eastbound Interstate 90 east of Alden. — Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

A blizzard descended upon Freeborn County Thursday and let up this morning.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning Thursday morning for the counties of Freeborn, Faribault, Martin, Steele, Waseca, Blue Earth, Watonwan, Le Sueur, Nicollet, Brown, Redwood, Sibley, Renville and Yellow Medicine. By the afternoon, many more counties in Minnesota and several in Iowa were added to the warning, which was in effect until 3 a.m. today.

Winds at 12:30 p.m. in Albert Lea were 16 mph from the southwest with gusts of 23 mph. The air temperature was 16 degrees with a wind chill of 1 above. The wind chill had been 7 below just 75 minutes earlier.

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At 3:15 p.m., the winds were from the northwest hitting 24 mph with 32 mph gusts. Winds at 7:15 p.m. were 25 mph with gusts up to 36. The wind chill dipped down to 23 below at 6:30 p.m. but otherwise hovered around 10 to 12 below most of the evening.

At 6 a.m., the wind chill was 21 below, with a northwest wind of 13 mph and gusts of 28.

Motorists Thursday encountered visibility in rural areas less than a quarter mile. Though some drivers slid into ditches, it looks like drivers in the Albert Lea area escaped the blizzard unscathed. The Minnesota State Patrol listed no injury-related crashes for the Albert Lea area.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation issued a no-travel advisory for southeastern Minnesota on Thursday because of difficult driving conditions with blowing snow and reduced visibility. Hotels in Albert Lea were full. One family even had to stay at the Albert Lea Armory following a crash, according to Albert Lea Police Department. There were also reports of traffic delays on Interstate 35 south of Albert Lea.

Roads this morning across southern Minnesota were partially covered with ice and packed snow, according to MnDOT.

Many schools let out early on Thursday. Albert Lea, for example, dismissed classes at 1 p.m. All sports contests in the region were canceled.

A wind chill advisory followed the blizzard. Wind chill advisories were in effect for all the Upper Midwest. The one including Freeborn County was set to expire at noon today. However, a second wind chill advisory is in place for 11 p.m. tonight to 9 a.m. Saturday. Wind chill readings are expected to be between 20 and 30 below.

Many districts started two hours late this morning. This included Albert Lea, Alden-Conger, Austin, Blooming Prairie, Blue Earth, Glenville-Emmons, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva,  Lake Mills, North Iowa, Northwood-Kensett,, St. Ansgar and United South Central.

New snow totals were spotty across Minnesota. Austin reported receiving 2 inches and Mankato 1. However, Albert Lea, Fairmont, Willmar and places squarely in the path of the blizzard’s winds did not report receiving significant snowfall. It did snow in Albert Lea Thursday for a spell, but the wastewater treatment plant says it was a half inch.



School districts from the South to the Northeast and Midwest delayed the start of classes or canceled school altogether.

Wind chill readings were at or below zero in such places as Alabama and North Carolina, along with a chunk of the Midwest, the Plains and the Northeast. The wind chill was minus-40 in Saranac Lake in upstate New York on Thursday morning.

In northwest Georgia, schools in Catoosa County had a two-hour delayed start on Thursday because of temperatures expected to top out at 27 degrees and dip as low as minus 2 degrees with wind chills.

Many other cities modified school schedules, including Detroit, where it was 3 degrees early Thursday. Students got the day off Thursday at Detroit Public Schools, the state’s largest district, and at many other districts around Michigan.

School districts also closed schools in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Maine.

Authorities say the severe weather and blowing snow are factors in the deaths of two northern Michigan men — an 85-year-old who was struck by a car while crossing a road to get his mail and a 64-year-old who was hit by a car while clearing snow.

A car struck 85-year-old Carl Dewey on Wednesday in Helena Township, about 30 miles northeast of Traverse City, the Antrim County sheriff’s department said. There were whiteout conditions at the time, the department told The Grand Rapids Press.

The Kalkaska County Sheriff’s Office said 64-year-old Zane Chwastek of Bear Lake Township was using a snow blower in his driveway Wednesday when a car slid off the road and struck him.

A space heater being used to thaw frozen pipes was the likely cause of a barn fire that killed more than a dozen horses in northern Ohio, fire officials said.

“It just engulfed the building. It went up in a hurry,” said Tim Kelly, an employee of the farm in Tallmadge, a suburb of Akron. “By the time you saw it, the building was just full of smoke with flames just coming through the roof.”

Firefighters were hindered by temperatures hovering around 3 degrees.

“We went in, but you couldn’t see and you couldn’t breathe,” Kelly said. “You could hear them, but we couldn’t get them out.”


The bright side

Temperatures have dropped to zero or below in southern New England and to 7 above in New York City, with wind chills getting into the minus-20s in some places. But little or no snow is forecast for most of the Northeast.

Around this time last year, parts of the region were digging out from 2 feet of snow accompanied by brutal polar air.

In fact, this season’s snowfall totals are way down from last year, one of the snowiest seasons on record.

Last year, Philadelphia, New York and Boston all got around 5 feet of snow from December through February, or about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet more than normal. This year, they’ve seen only a few inches of snow since Dec. 1.

But then there’s western New York. The Buffalo area got slammed with more than 7 feet of snow in November and saw another foot on Tuesday.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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