Northland snow spurs slippery roads, accidentsThree inches has fallen in Duluth, with 4 inches common across the Arrowhead.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
The biggest snowfall of the new year, approaching 3 inches officially at Duluth International Airport at noon, was spreading joy among skiers and snowmobilers but was causing some havoc on Northland roads.
The new snow was glazing roads and contributing to numerous accidents, according to the Minnesota State Patrol.
As of noon the State Patrol reported at least 21 crashes with damage in the Duluth district and at least 12 vehicles off the road, but only one minor injury.
The crashes included several on Interstate 35, including some in the Duluth tunnels which seemed unusually slippery at times, according to drivers.
“Drivers are driving too fast for conditions and following too close,’’ said Curt Mowers, State Patrol spokesman, adding that vehicles carry snow and water into the tunnels which turns to ice, which drivers may not expect in an enclosed area.
Beth Petrowske, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation in Duluth, said the snow happened at a bad time, during heavy morning traffic, making it harder for plows to scrape packed-down snow on the roads. Temperatures in the low teens also reduce the melting abilities of road salt, she said.
“MnDOT crews are plowing and applying salt and sand on all of our routes,” she said. “The snow has been steady for most of the morning, and we have to go over our routes again and again in an effort to keep them clear.”
Petrowske agreed that motorists may be lulled into thinking covered areas, like the I-35 tunnels in Duluth, are dry and safe when moisture does get carried in.
“Motorists may feel a false sense of security while driving in the tunnels and perhaps they are driving too fast for the conditions,” she said, adding that the tunnels also could have seen black ice, caused even on dry roads when moisture from vehicle exhaust bonds to the road.
“Black ice is invisible, so motorists need to be wary in areas where it is likely to form; bridge decks, shady areas and at intersections,” she said.
Mowers said the three troopers on duty in the Duluth area were being spread thin with the heavy load of crash calls.
Light snow was expected to continue on and off all day in the Twin Ports, said Amanda Graning, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Duluth. Duluth could see another inch of snow, while the Arrowhead region — northern St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties — already have seen 4 or more inches of snow today with snow expected to persist there into Saturday.
More than 6 inches could fall in those northern areas before snow tapers off Saturday, Granning said.
Very gusty winds and falling temperatures Saturday could cause additional travel hazards, with temperatures dropping below zero Saturday night and not expected to rise above zero until Wednesday — the coldest stretch in two years.
Today’s snow event comes as the Minnesota Department of Public Safety warned that December, January and February, one-fourth of the year, accounted for 68,686 accidents — one-third of all accidents in Minnesota last year.
The state reported today that final 2012 numbers show incidents where snow/icy road surfaces were listed accounted for nearly 10,605 crashes resulting in 28 deaths and 3,081 injuries during those winter months.
“While winter conditions make driving challenging, these crashes and resulting deaths and injuries can be prevented if we buckle up and drive at safe speeds,” said State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske.
The State Patrol suggests:
State officials urge winter motorists to stock a winter survival kit in their vehicle, including scraper/brush, small shovel, jumper cables and a bag of sand or cat litter for tire traction. Also important are blankets, boots, warm clothing, a bright cloth to tie on an antenna or hang in the window to signal for help and flashlights, as are high-energy foods such as chocolate or energy bars.