WORTHINGTON — Dreaming of a white Christmas? Then you weren’t disappointed.
More than three weeks into a December with no measurable precipitation, moisture finally arrived Wednesday in the form of a blizzard that combined up to 4 inches of snow in some locations with winds gusting as high as 65 mph. The system brought conditions of nearly zero visibility across southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa, but there were no results of any fatalities or serious injuries resulting from the storm.
Brad Adams, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, acknowledged that the storm was unusual in nature.
“We haven’t had a winter storm with that widespread of wind in this area in maybe 20 or 30 years,” Adams said. “Other than the Christmas blizzard of 2009, this is probably the biggest winter wind storm we’ve had in a couple decades.”
The NWS reported a peak wind gust of 55 mph Wednesday at Worthington Municipal Airport. A wind speed of 65 mph, meanwhile, was recorded in Dovray, along Minnesota 30, while a gust of 60 mph was measured along Interstate 90 at milepost 35 near Rushmore. Airports in Slayton and Jackson had wind gusts of 59 mph, as did Beaver Creek.
Snowfall across the area wasn’t quite as dramatic.
Spirit Lake, Iowa had the area’s greatest reported snowfall to the NWS, coming in at 4.3 inches. Worthington reported 4 inches of snow, as did Windom. Lake Wilson had a measured 3.5 inches, while Lake Park, Iowa had three inches and Hills and Edgerton 2.5 inches each.
“It was a deepening area of low pressure that intensified over eastern Nebraska,” Adams described about Wednesday’s conditions. “It created winter precipitation, which wasn;t super heavy in terms of snowfall, but it certainly was a windy event due to the strengthening of the area of low pressure.”
Adams also noted that additional winter weather could be on the way before month’s end.
“It’s definitely been below normal precipitation … across much of the Northern Plains,” Adams said. “We needed the moisture, and obviously we didn’t get a lot, but there’s hope with another system coming Tuesday night or Wednesday. It looks like it could be higher snowfall totals than the last event we just had.”
The combination of snow and wind created hazardous traveling conditions across the region, as the Minnesota State Department of Transportation (MnDOT) issued multiple announcements and advisories throughout Wednesday.
Early Wednesday afternoon, MnDOT enacted a no-travel advisory on state and federal highways in Nobles, Cottonwood, Jackson and Rock counties, among others in the southwest portion of the state. The advisory included both Interstate 90 and Minnesota 60.
At approximately 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, MnDOT announced the closure of highways in southwest Minnesota “due to numerous crashes and zero visibility,” including I-90 — from the South Dakota state line to Blue Earth — and Minnesota 60 west of U.S. 169. Most highways, as well as I-90, had been re-opened by 7 a.m. Thursday.
It was certainly a dangerous day to be out on roads, the Minnesota State Patrol confirmed.
State Patrol Sgt. Troy Christianson said Thursday morning that there were a total of 42 property damage crashes between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Wednesday in the agency’s District 2300. That district includes Nobles, Cottonwood, Jackson, Murray, Pipestone and Rock counties, as well as seven additional counties in the region.
Christianson indicated there were six injury crashes and 69 vehicles off the roads during the 12-hour period Wednesday, as well as five jackknifed semis. He also confirmed that multiple vehicles went off the road at approximately 1 p.m. on Minnesota 60 near Heron Lake — as many as 50, according to reports received — but that there were no injuries and vehicles were able to return to the roadway without law enforcement assistance.
Locally, incident reports received from the Nobles County Law Enforcement Center listed nine Wednesday crashes or vehicles off roadway (see “For the Record” on page 3).
In addition to perilous roads, at least some regional residents had to contend with power outages. Nobles Cooperative Electric reported mid-Wednesday afternoon that members in Wilmont and Reading were without electricity.
Nancy Vaske, who resides between Reading and Wilmont, said the lights went out at her residence at about 3 p.m. Power returned at 10 p.m., she added.
Vaske said he’d heard that some residents in both Reading and Wilmont lost power while others didn’t. She also expressed gratitude to the line workers who braved the difficult and dangerous conditions to restore electricity.