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National Guard called out as more than foot of snow buries southern Minn., strands motorists

Jan 23, 2018 06:02AM ● Published by Editor

Traffic was slow headed west on Interstate 94 towards downtown St. Paul as the plows had trouble keeping up with he snow on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (John Autey / Pioneer Press))

By St. Paul Pioneer Press on Jan 22, 2018 at 10:27 p.m.

MINNEAPOLIS—It's bad out there.

A winter storm that dumped as much as a foot of snow on the Twin Cities made driving hazardous on Monday across the metro and much of southern Minnesota, where even more snow had accumulated. The storm also led to school closings, the cancellation of hundreds of flights at the Twin Cities airport and the imposition of snow emergencies in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The Minnesota State Patrol as of late afternoon reported hundreds of crashes, hundreds of vehicle spinouts and dozens of jackknifed semis across the region.

Vehicles were spinning out, stalling out, and crashing all over the metro area, and the state reported reduced visibility and slippery roadways covered with snow.

It was so bad that Minnesota called on the National Guard to rescue and shelter motorists stranded by snowfall that was coming down at the rate of 2 inches an hour at times on Monday.

Gov. Mark Dayton announced Monday afternoon he signed an executive order directing the National Guard to provide emergency relief in Steele County, where 17 inches of snow had been reported in Owatonna by Monday night. The order came at the request of the Steele County sheriff.

The National Guard was also directed to provide help as needed in Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Dakota, Goodhue, Faribault, Freeborn, Le Sueur, Martin, McLeod, Nicollet, Redwood, Renville, Rice, Scott, Sibley, Steele, Waseca and Watonwan counties.

The snow began on Monday morning and continued late into the night, at times falling at a rate of 2 inches per hour, according to the National Weather Service, and exceeding initial forecasts.

By 8:30 p.m., the snowfall total at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport had reached 11 inches. Totals were higher in the southeastern corner of the metro. To the north and northwest, snowfall totals quickly fell off. In Dayton, in the northwestern metro area, only 2.5 inches had been recorded by 8 p.m.

Moderate to heavy snow was expected to continue in the Twin Cities through the evening and taper off by 1 a.m., the NWS said.

Monday's accumulation roughly doubles the total snowfall seen in the metro so far this season, said Mike Griesinger, a meteorologist with the NWS in Chanhassen.

But Griesinger pointed out that this year's snowfall has been about 17 inches below average.

"We're making up for lost time in one big chunk," he said. "We'll still be below normal on the season after this, but it will be more in the ballpark of six inches below normal."

The heavy snow on Monday had a profound impact in a number of ways.

St. Paul and Minneapolis declared snow emergencies, affecting street parking beginning at 9 p.m. Monday night.

St. Paul Public Schools issued an alert to parents that buses bringing students home were "experiencing significant delays" — some of them several hours. Tuesday classes are canceled. Minneapolis was to decide whether to close by early Tuesday morning.

Almost all flights out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport had travel advisories, with more than 400 reportedly canceled. The airport temporarily closed all four runways Monday afternoon, but airport officials said on Twitter they reopened two runways at about 7 p.m.

Several metro-area school districts called off Monday classes. St. Paul public schools canceled after-school and evening activities. St. Catherine University, University of St. Thomas, Concordia University and Hamline University all closed Monday afternoon.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation lifted a no-travel advisory in southwest Minnesota, which had borne the brunt of the storm under blizzard conditions, but said blowing and drifting snow remained an issue.

Towing companies were too busy to do anything other than help people, according to Jennifer Pearson, an employee at Twin Cities Wrecker Sales, which sells towing equipment.

"Usually, we're busy when they're busy, but it's been kind of quiet here because they're too busy to call us," Pearson said.

The Minnesota State Patrol tweeted Monday afternoon that state roads had seen 184 crashes and 298 spinouts as of 4:30 p.m. One crash in Eden Prairie caused serious injuries, but none were fatal, the tweet said.

Monday night could dip down to about 10 degrees with wind gusts as high as 30 mph.

Temperatures will warm up to the 20s and 30s later this week, with a possible high near 43 on Friday.

S. M. Chavey, Nick Ferraro and Christopher Magan contributed to this repor

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