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Two dead as snow, ice make for treacherous driving around Minnesota

Oct 27, 2017 07:17PM ● By Editor
By  Star Tribune OCTOBER 27, 2017 — 6:31PM

Winter returned to Minnesota Friday with howling winds and falling snow, contributing to numerous crashes in central and northern Minnesota.

In the state’s first snowfall of the season, 40- to 50-mile-per-hour wind gusts led to white-out conditions and icy roads across the state.

Two motorists died on crashes on snowy roads near Duluth and Brainerd. And the State Patrol reported more than 100 vehicle crashes and 125 spinouts.

The winter storm came after Mother Nature treated the state to sunshine and temperatures in the 70s just one week earlier. Light blowing snow fell in the Twin Cities throughout Friday. Authorities reported no extra traffic slowdowns from the weather or Metro Transit bus delays.

But northern Minnesota bore the brunt of the treacherous road conditions.

In Duluth, the State Patrol responded to numerous vehicles in ditches and crashes, including a jackknifed semi. West of Duluth, a 44-year-old man driving a semi died when he crashed into the icy St. Louis River. The semi slid off Interstate 35 on an overpass near Scanlon at 4:40 a.m., the State Patrol said. Hours later, authorities recovered the driver’s body from the river.

    A few hours later, a 26-year-old man from Pierz, Minn, died when he lost control of the 2013 Kia Sorrento he was driving south on icy Hwy. 25 n Daggett Brook Township, in Crow Wing County, and was struck by a northbound semi, the patrol said. Alvaro A. Rodriguez died at the scene just after 9 a.m. The semi driver, Rodney A. Lund, 60, of Fargo, N.D., was not hurt. Both were wearing seat belts and alcohol is not thought to have been a factor, the patrol said.

    More than 8 inches of snow fell in Duluth, breaking the city’s record for daily snowfall on Oct. 27. Almost 11 inches fell near Scanlon, 10.2 in Hermantown, 10 in Finland, 9 in Holyoke, 8.3 in Chisholm and 8 in Moose Lake.

    “It’s unusual to have this much snow [this early],” said meteorologist Bryan Howell with the National Weather Service office in Duluth, adding that downtown Duluth had lighter amounts of snow, but “as you go up the hill, it gets worse and worse.”

    Duluth typically gets a total of about 1 inch of snow in October. Instead, Friday marked the second highest one-day snowfall total for October in city history.

    As a result, the University of Minnesota Duluth shut down campus at 2 p.m. And in Canal Park, high winds and huge Lake Superior waves caused flooding and damaged the Lakewalk Trail, ripping out sections of the trail and covering other areas in rocks. Nearby hotel parking lots were flooded and full of debris — from logs to rocks tossed ashore.

    The massive waves and destruction was unusual even for the Lake Superior city, occurring in part because the lake is near record high levels.

    “It’s definitely worse,” said Erik Birkeland, manager of parks maintenance in Duluth. “They’re huge [waves] ... It’s a powerful lake.”

    Across the state, MnDOT snowplows were out in full force on major freeways pre-treating and clearing roads throughout the day. Wind gusts reached 40 miles per hour across the metro and almost 50 miles per hour in places such as Redwood Falls and Olivia.

    Unusual weather

    While the late October snowfall brought back memories of the Halloween Blizzard of 1991, snow in October in Minnesota is actually rare.

    In the past two decades, only three years have had measurable snow in October. In the Twin Cities, the last time snow accumulated in October was 2009 and the average date for a first snowfall is Nov. 2, according to the National Weather Service in Chanhassen.

    Saturday will bring a return of sunshine to the Twin Cities, but the chill will remain with a high near 38, the Weather Service said. Sunday brings a chance of rain after 1 p.m. and there’s a slight chance for snow and rain Monday morning. Then, after a dry, cloudy Tuesday, rain and snow may dominate the day Wednesday.

    In Duluth, crews are hoping the weather lets up next week so they can repair the storm damage in Canal Park.

    “In Minnesota, the amount of snowfall is always a surprise, but it’s not even November yet,” Birkeland said. “That’s when we’re famous for those big rolling waves. It came a little early [this year].”

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