BLIZZARD UPDATE: 19 inches of snow and strong east windsOur Christmas blizzard is in full force, with the National Weather Service reporting that 19 inches of snow have fallen at Duluth International Airport. Winds gusting up to 45 mph were creating huge snow drifts, limiting visibility and making travel nearly impossible.
By: John Myers, Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
The holiday blizzard has dumped 19 inches of snow on Duluth. And it’s not over yet.
“We’re expecting a few hours of rain and sleet here this morning before becoming all snow later today with several more inches this afternoon and overnight,” Amanda Graning, a meteorologist at the Duluth office of the National Weather Service, said.
Areas along the North Shore, down Interstate 35 to Hinckley and east across much of northern Wisoncins can expect to see rain and sleet, Graning said.
Winds gusting up to 40 mph have created huge snow drifts, limiting visibility and making travel nearly impossible.
“We have lot of four, five foot drifts,” Graning said. “We’re getting lots of reports of people just having to abandon their vehicles. It’s a very, very heavy snow, like concrete more than anything else.”
The Minnesota Emergency Operations Center this morning reported that driving conditions in Northeastern Minnesota "range from poor to impossible. No travel is advised."
Between 6 a.m. Tuesday and 9:30 p.m. Thursday, the Minnesota State Patrol responded to 498 property-damage, 82 personal injury and one fatal accident statewide. Troopers also responded to 1,054 vehicles off the road.
Minnesota Department of Transportation snowplow drivers are working full shifts to clear the state's highways.
Duluth Police Sgt. Bob Shene had one word of advice for people thinking of venturing out on the city's streets and highways: "Don't."
"It's raining down here and snowing up over the hill and doing both in between," he said this morning.
Duluth’s Kenwood neighborhood received about eight inches of new snow before 3 a.m., with drifts two to three feet deep. The snow switched to rain during the night. The wet, heavy snow is breaking limbs off red pine and cedar trees.
The storm has raised havoc with Holiday plans, canceling church services and causing treacherous travel that’s keeping some people away from friends and relatives.
The pull of four children and seven grandchildren prompted Pam Kallevig of Duluth to accelerate the timing of a planned visit to a family gathering in Cottage Grove, Minn., by a day.
“They told me you’d better head out right now if you’re going to beat this storm,” said Kallevig as she filled her SUV at a Holiday Station in Duluth early Thursday afternoon. “I packed in a half-hour, and if I forgot anything, that’s just too bad.”
But the storm prompted more than a few people to change their Christmas itineraries substantially.
Per Dahleen of Duluth said he had planned to spend the holiday with his in-laws in Fargo, N.D. But he and his wife, Laura, heeded her parents’ advice not to risk the trip, given the snowy weather.
Instead the Dahleens set off Thursday afternoon for Per’s parents in Brainerd. The couple will celebrate a belated Christmas in Fargo when schedules allow.
“We’re going to stay a little closer to home,” Dahleen said. “We want to be safe about it.”
Kurt Bartell and Rachel Hagen, a couple from Duluth, said the holiday gathering they planned to host has downsized from 10 people to probably five due to the snowstorm. Hagen wasn’t complaining, however.
“We’d rather have more Christmases together than risk not having another with someone,” she said.
The winter storm, promised for more than a week, lived up to its hype early on. On Thursday morning up to 9 inches of snow fell in Canal Park in Duluth and 6 to 7 inches in Northwest Wisconsin. As predicted, the snow then tapered off for several hours before roaring back overnight.
Some Northlanders were out early Christmas Eve despite bleak conditions.
Ken Weyenberg said business was slow but steady at his Explorations toy store in downtown Duluth. Despite a mostly deserted downtown, the storm didn’t bust Weyenberg’s sales or his spirits.
“This just makes it more fun for the kids. They’re outside having fun,’’ he said. “It’s nice that it let up enough to let people get out. But we deserve the snow. It’s good for us.’’
Scott Miller of Superior was up at 2 a.m. to get to his job as a garbage truck driver for Waste Management.
“I went out in my slippers to start my truck and we already had 2-foot drifts,’’ Miller said.
Miller said Duluth-area streets were slick and snow covered early Thursday, with uphill avenues tough to climb and downhill ones hard to stop on. He urged people to be extra cautious on the roads. And, by the way, please shovel out your garbage can so he can get at it.
“I’ve been stuck all morning. But I’m used to this kind of weather,’’ Miller said. “We’ll get it done. We’ll keep going until we finish everyone. That’s our job. And then we’ll be back at it on Saturday.”
Miller wasn’t the only one thinking of work. Brian Klein allowed a full five hours of drive time Thursday afternoon as he left his home in Duluth en route to a 24-hour stint at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. He took the winter weather in stride, saying: “It doesn’t matter to me. We can handle some snow. That’s why we live here.”
Marty Hill was shoveling the sidewalk in front of his apartment on East Fourth Street downtown — not because he had to, but because it’s kind of fun.
“I don’t have to work until later, so I’m doing the landlord a favor,’’ said Miller, who said he has no plans of leaving town for the holidays. “I’m staying right here.’’
Jim Allen rode a DTA bus from his downtown apartment to an elderly friend’s house on East Ninth Street, where he was busy clearing the front sidewalk.
“I’m just trying to keep up. Not that he has anywhere to go, but it’s nice to keep it clear,’’ said Allen, who also plans to stay home for Christmas. “I’m not going more than a few blocks in this stuff.’’