April storm snarls traffic, cuts power and puts on a show in Duluth (with video)Winds gusted to 65 mph at the Duluth Harbor, and a snowburst dropped several inches of snow in just a few hours Thursday as an unwelcome April storm snarled traffic and reminded Northlanders exactly where they live.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Winds gusted to 65 mph at the Duluth Harbor, and a snowburst dropped several inches of snow in just a few hours Thursday as an unwelcome April storm snarled traffic and reminded Northlanders exactly where they live.
The well-forecast storm hit the Twin Ports as expected, just before noon, dropping up to a half-foot of snow in some areas. The National Weather Service in Duluth reported 4.5 inches as of 7 p.m., a record for the date. Snow tapered off in the evening but a few more inches were expected to fall in spurts overnight.
High winds in the Duluth area caused numerous power outages during the day. About 2,500 customers were without power after an outage at 7:30 p.m. across downtown Duluth and Hillside and into the West End. Another outage impacted the Hillside and Kenwood neighborhoods in the morning, including at the College of St. Scholastica, which was forced to cancel early classes.
Duluth police asked people to stay off the streets at one point Thursday afternoon. There were more than 38 city street accidents reported in whiteout conditions between noon and 5:30 p.m.
The snow was falling so fast that many Twin Ports businesses and schools closed early, creating an early rush hour as people tried to make it home.
The situation caused rare traffic jams on several Duluth streets. Traffic backed up for blocks on West Third Street where slick conditions made it difficult for vehicles to get onto Mesaba Avenue. Police diverted cars down Fourth Avenue West, but only after crews put down enough sand and salt to make it safe.
“It’s been an hour,” said Lydia Raivala of Wentworth, Wis., as she waited for an officer to wave her through the Fourth Avenue intersection about 3 p.m. She said she left Essentia Health, where she’d been visiting, about 2 p.m.
Dave Fure said it took him about a half-hour to go three blocks on Third Street.
“I’m trying to get to Superior,” he said. “Hopefully they won’t close the bridge on me.”
Kelli Tuhkanen left work about 2:30 p.m. when her department at Essentia Health closed. She was on her way home to Twig but heading southwest on the advice of a friend who said she should go the long way around through Proctor.
“I might turn back around and try Woodland Avenue,” she said after spending a half-hour trying to reach Interstate 35. “Take the back way home.”
Even Duluth Transit Authority buses parked for about an hour during the peak of the storm, but drivers resumed their routes just after 3 p.m. as conditions slowly improved.
The storm was a much wetter kiss on southern Minnesota, where it hit earlier in the morning. The Minnesota State Patrol reported more than 400 crashes across the state by noon and 475 vehicles off roadways.
THUNDER AND WAVES
Thunder clapped during the outbreak of the storm followed by snowfall rates of more than an inch per hour.
Spectators lined Canal Park in the morning before the snow came to watch impressive waves crash onto the rocks and seawalls.
The 65 mph wind gust was reported on the Blatnik Bridge between Duluth and Superior and a 60 mph gust was reported at the Aerial Lift Bridge. The peak gust at the airport was 48 mph. A gale warning was posted for Lake Superior until 10 a.m. today.
Phyllis and Brian Bakka of Cloquet were in Duluth on business Thursday morning. On the drive in they heard a radio report that the waves at Canal Park were creating quite a show, so they joined up with Elaine Spikberg of Saginaw and the trio went to the ship canal.
“We just wanted to see (Lake Superior) in a different mode,” Phyllis Bakka said. “Gosh, the power is amazing.”
The Bakkas have always wanted to see an angry lake but hadn’t had the chance until Thursday.
“People were really enjoying it,” she said.
They spent about a half-hour near the canal and left just as a shroud of snow enveloped Canal Park at 11:30. The ride back to Cloquet was a slippery one, but the chance to see the lake in such a state was worth it, Bakka said.
Gordy’s Hi-Hat in Cloquet, which celebrated its 53rd spring opening Wednesday, was open Thursday afternoon and planned to stay that way, despite the storm.
“Yesterday was the busiest opener we’ve had,” said owner Dan Lundquist. “I think it was because people have this pent-up demand to do something. It was crazy.”
The burger stop hasn’t opened to a snowstorm like Thursday’s in years, Lundquist said. Some of his younger employees drive in from outlying areas, so he planned to stay open at least until the weather calmed down to keep them safe. He told some workers from later shifts to stay home.
“The dining room is three-fourths full,” he said. “People who are here made a special trip. We’re hoping to make it through most of the day.”
The Lake Superior Zoo closed before noon Thursday, but it was for employee and visitor safety and not really about the animals.
“All of our animals that are outdoors can handle this type of stuff,” said Peter Pruett, director of operations at the zoo.
The animals are given access to the indoors so they can choose whether they want to be out of the snow or outside to “enjoy the bad weather,” Pruett said.
Only the lions have specific temperature rules. They are locked inside if the temperature dips below zero, and they have access to their holding area when it’s below 20 degrees.
Staff writers Mike Creger, Jana Hollingsworth and Jaime DeLage contributed to this report.