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Photos + Video: December blizzard brings -45 degree windchills, stranded motorists

With the plows pulled in, Nobles County Sheriff Ryan Kruger asks that people stay home and don’t try to travel in the blizzard.

Nobles County and adjacent counties are experiencing a total white-out ground blizzard. This is the scene two miles west of Worthington on Nobles County 12 Friday afternoon, Dec. 23, 2022.
Nobles County and adjacent counties are experiencing a total white-out ground blizzard. This is the scene two miles west of Worthington on Nobles County 12 Friday afternoon, Dec. 23, 2022.
Tim Middagh/The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — What did the great Christmas week blizzard of 2022 sound and feel like?

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It sounded like a distant freight train roaring through town full speed ahead, as winds were sustained at 25 to 30 miles per hour on Friday, with gusts over 40 mph. It felt like ice crystals pelting you in the face, and if you reached out for a handrail without mittens or gloves, your skin quickly burned with frostbite.

If you were on the road, the visibility was horrendous — white-out conditions making it impossible to see what lay ahead, and drifts across roadways so deep it took more than one plow to clear a single path.

Despite constant messages from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, local sheriff’s offices and the National Weather Service to stay home and stay safe, there were those who, for whatever reason, still ventured out.

Across the region, chatter on first responder radios included reports of stranded motorists, plow drivers reporting poor visibility, a barely visible car in a snowdrift on U.S. 59 and an ambulance that needed to be escorted from Fulda to Worthington with a snowplow leading the way.

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Truckers trying to get from Point A to Point B were suddenly stranded when the state announced it was closing Interstate 90 and all state highways in southwest Minnesota at 7 p.m. Thursday.

At Blue Line Junction, one of Worthington’s truck stops on the northeast edge of town, the parking lot quickly filled with truckers who couldn’t go any farther.

“We have a lot of semis here,” reported Brenda Boje, C-store manager, on Friday morning. “Most of them are waiting until the road opens because they can’t go anywhere.”

Sunflowers with bowed heads are greeted by the sun as an Alberta Clipper blows ice crystals into the air forming a Sundog in -45 degree wind chill Thursday morning.
Sunflowers with bowed heads are greeted by the sun as an Alberta Clipper blows ice crystals into the air forming a Sundog in -45 degree wind chill Thursday morning.
Tim Middagh/The Globe

She said snow had drifted in quite a bit around the semis in the back lot, and one truck was stuck.

Blue Line Junction’s restaurant was bustling with activity Friday morning, and not just from the truckers.

“We have people coming out for coffee,” Boje reported. “They have to live in town to get here, but it’s locals I see every morning.”

Boje, who lives 30 miles away, stayed in Worthington Wednesday and Thursday nights so she could get to work. She said their restaurant delivery truck made it in for a delivery on Thursday, but their C-store truck, which was supposed to come in on Friday, canceled its delivery already on Wednesday.

A white Chevrolet Suburban is stuck in a snow drift between farm groves on Nobles County 12, west of Worthington, Friday afternoon, Dec. 23, 2022.
A white Chevrolet Suburban is stuck in a snow drift between farm groves on Nobles County 12, west of Worthington, Friday afternoon, Dec. 23, 2022.
Tim Middagh/The Globe

At Comfort Suites in Worthington, front desk agent Tyler Ober reported Friday morning that they had a few people arrive after their vehicle had to be towed to Worthington, and others who decided to pull off the road and be stranded there. Some guests had extended their stay due to the ongoing blizzard.

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“This morning, we’ve had five people stop in who couldn’t get beyond Worthington, so they have booked rooms,” Ober said, adding that they would likely be fully booked for Friday evening.

“They’re just glad to be off the roads and not stuck out there in the cold,” Ober said of the attitude of travelers.

Road conditions poor

Nobles County sent out 11 plows and two blowers around 9:30 a.m. Friday, and by 11:30 a.m., they were being pulled back in due to poor visibility, according to Highway Maintenance Superintendent Cliff Altman.

“Our bad spots are real bad,” Altman said, noting that plows were sent to some of the worst areas in the county first to try to get roads open. If there was good news, it was that the drifts weren’t packed very hard, making it easier for the plows to get through.

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Altman said four vehicles were stranded on the county road system, including one semi. All were unoccupied.

During the brief time plow drivers were out Friday morning, Altman said several reported it was getting more and more difficult to see what was ahead of them, hence the decision to pull back.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation planned to reopen I-90 at 10:30 a.m. Friday, but cautioned that a no-travel advisory remained in effect on all highways in Nobles, Rock, Cottonwood and Jackson counties in this area, as well as Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, Le Sueur, Martin, Nicollet, Sibley, Waseca and Watonwan counties farther to the east and northeast of Worthington.

With the blizzard warning extended to 6 a.m. Saturday, Altman said plans are tentative to be back on the road at that time with the plows.

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“It will all depend on what we see,” he said.

With the plows pulled in, Nobles County Sheriff Ryan Kruger asks that people stay home and don’t try to travel in the blizzard.

“The visibility is getting worse as the day goes on here,” he said shortly after noon on Friday.

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Kruger said he made the drive from Adrian to Worthington to check on vehicles that were reportedly stranded, but fortunately didn’t find any.

“We’re trying to get to people where we can, but they just have to stay home,” he said. “Especially now with our plows being pulled, it’s going to be a time delay if we need someone to escort us.

“People just need to stay home and play cards or watch Netflix,” he added.

Kruger said it helped on Thursday when the state highways and Interstate closed, forcing people to stay home.

“But then, people try to find alternative routes,” he said, stressing that alternative routes are often worse and “pretty much impassable in some spots” with snow drifts as tall as a car or truck.

One plow driver Friday morning reported a snow drift 4- to 5-feet tall and about 100-feet long.

“Getting places is difficult,” Kruger added. “The unfortunate fact in a blizzard like this is there may be circumstances where we can’t get to somebody or it’s going to be delayed.”

Kruger advises people to visit the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s website at 511mn.org to check on road conditions and closures. They should also watch the Nobles County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page and Nobles County Emergency Management .

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Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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