Wind brings weather woes
WORTHINGTON -- A little bit of snow can go a long way when the wind blows in southwest Minnesota.
Light, fluffy, newfallen snow combined with winds in the 30 to 40 mph range to create dangerous conditions Monday in southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa. Visibility was reported to be almost zero in outlying areas, and even in town it was difficult for drivers to see more than a few feet in front of their vehicles at times.
If they hadn't cancelled school altogether, area school districts sent students home early, numerous activities and meetings were cancelled, many businesses closed and some industries cancelled shifts for later in the day.
Nobles County and state plows were pulled from the roadways at noon, and multiple accidents were reported throughout the region, including a head-on collision involving a snowplow and a pickup truck on Nobles County 1 north of Brewster. The plow driver was uninjured, but an ambulance and rescue squad were sent to attend to the second driver's non life-threatening injuries; no condition report was available Monday.
According to Nobles County Deputy Jay Clarke, the accident happened just after the snowplow drivers had been told to return to home base.
"He was trying to get back home and had already been told to get back to the barn and got hit on the way home," Clarke said.
According to Clarke, the visibility was the main problem -- not an accumulation of snow.
"Getting stuck isn't the issue," he explained. "It's just that you're driving along, and it is like someone threw a sheet over your head."
Farther to the west on Interstate 90, another accident hampered traffic in Rock County. The Minnesota Department of Transportation Web site termed the accident as "serious" between Rock County 6 and Exit 12.
Due to the whiteout conditions, MnDOT decided to close Interstate 90, from Interstate 35 west, and all southwest Minnesota state highways at 3:30 p.m. and advised no travel anywhere in the region.
"Motorists are advised not to travel until conditions improve and Mn/DOT crews clear the roads," advised Mn/DOT officials in the travel advisory. "Mn/DOT and the State Patrol will determine when the roads are safe for travel."
By 2:30 p.m. Monday, there was no room left at the inn -- the AmericInn in Worthington.
"We have a full house," reported front desk clerk Lyla Lais, who said the hotel's guests weren't necessarily travelers from off nearby Interstate 90, but people who work in Worthington and were unable to get to their homes in outlying areas and towns. "We booked up in the last two and a half hours real quick here."
From the AmericInn, it was easy for Lais to see -- or not see -- why traveling conditions were so dangerous.
"At times, we can't see Perkins from here," she said, referring to the neighboring restaurant that is just across the parking lot.
Perkins had also become a haven, albeit temporary, for some travelers.
Server Nicole Dengler said many travelers had pulled in off the highway, pondering whether to wait out the blizzard.
"We do have quite a few," she said. "A lot of them have said they're going to get hotel rooms. They've been asking around, and the last I heard it was going to last until 9 p.m."
The National Weather Service extended the wind advisory -- the reason for the blizzard conditions -- until 3 a.m. today. A wind advisory is issued "when sustained winds are forecast to be 31 to 39 mph or gust will range between 46 and 57 mph." Snowfall was only expected to be 1 to 2 inches.