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Blizzard Blog: Tales from the (storm's) front

Here is what we heard from our reporters and other staffers during Friday's storm. 4:25 p.m.: While 62 mph was the highest official wind gust for the day at Duluth International Airport, there may have been higher gusts not recorded nearer Lake S...

Here is what we heard from our reporters and other staffers during Friday's storm.

4:25 p.m.: While 62 mph was the highest official wind gust for the day at Duluth International Airport, there may have been higher gusts not recorded nearer Lake Superior. The problem is that anemometers near the lake, such as at Sky Harbor Airport on Duluth's Park Point, may have been sticking due to freezing, wet snow. Wind speeds at the lake should have been higher than those at the airport. The highest wind speed near the lake reported was 54 mph. The problem likely ended when air temps near the lake rose above 33 degrees in the afternoon.

Either way, winds were above gale force -- 39 mph and higher -- nearly all night and all day near the lake.

Winds were still howling to nearly 50 mph at times as of 3:30 p.m. Friday.

4:20 p.m.: At the University of Minnesota Duluth, you couldn't even visit the library Friday. Though the entire campus was shut down, you could still spot a few students tucked away in different corners of the campus studying, their laptops and i-pods nearby.

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About the only lively group activity for the day were three friendly games of poker being played by about 12 students in the Kirby Student Center.

But by 4 p.m. Friday, signs of life were starting to sprout near the campus. A man was walking his dog. A woman was defending herself from snowballs, using a charcoal grill lid as a shield, and the major streets around the colleges had been cleared and were rapidly filling with slush.

2:55 p.m.: Copy editor/page designer Andrew Krueger writes:

Out on Martin Road in Rice Lake Township, my yard is a patchwork of 2-foot-deep drifts and areas where the wind has scoured off all the snow.

Unfortunately, my driveway and the walkway from my house to the garage are in 2-foot drift zones. It's been a constant struggle trying to keep them open (all hand-shoveling; my eggbeater of a snowblower is of no use against the concrete-like snow). I've shoveled a path to the garage three times today, and once again it looks like it hasn't been touched by a shovel.

The wind has peeled curls of old, white bark off birch trees in my yard, and they are sporting pinkish-yellow spots of newly exposed bark on their trunks. Small branches downed by the wind are scooting across the yard, pushed by the gusts.

Snowplows have kept Martin Road clear of deep snow most of the day, though it still is snow-covered and slippery. In addition to passing vehicles there has been a steady stream of snowmobilers making their way along the shoulder of the road all day.

2:08 p.m.: Winds pushing an April blizzard were beginning to diminish a bit, especially away from Lake Superior, and the National Weather Service in Duluth said conditions are gradually improving across parts of the Northland on Friday afternoon.

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Visibility at Duluth International Airport had increased to a half-mile, enough to spur forecasters to drop the blizzard warning by 4 p.m. today.

A winter storm warning will remain in effect until Saturday morning for areas around Lake Superior and along Minnesota Highway 210 between Duluth and Brainerd where the heaviest snows have fallen so far.

"We'll probably cancel most of the warnings with our 4 p.m. update, but keep a winter storm warning near the lake," said meteorologist Roman Berdes. "The winds are going down a little now, but it's still going to be very windy well into the night.'

Berdes said he didn't think road conditions would improve much until early Saturday.

Winds that had blown at 40-50 mph all night and into the morning, with a gust as high as 62 mph, have dropped into the 30-40 mph range near Lake Superior. A gale warning remains in effect for the lake, where waves up to 16 feet are expected. Local flooding is possible near shore.

Snowfall totals have ranged from up to 10 inches in some Duluth neighborhoods to more than a foot in parts of Carlton, Pine, Aitkin and Cass counties. Lesser amounts have fallen in Northwestern Wisconsin and on the Iron Range.

Newly developed bands of snow will continue to push into the Twin Ports for much of the evening, Berdes said.

"It's winding down a little, but it's not over yet,' he said.

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Greg Frosig, a senior meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Duluth, said total snowfall from the storm will be slightly less than expected near Lake Superior thanks to a late start.

Those gale-force east winds were pumping cold, dry air into the head of the lake Thursday night that acted as a wedge preventing the storm from entering the area as soon as forecasters expected.

"It really didn't start snowing here (at Duluth International Airport) until about 11 p.m. The moisture just couldn't take hold as soon as we thought it would thanks to that push of dry air in here,' Frosig said.

1:50 p.m.: Lake Country Power is making quick work of reducing the number of its customers with outages. Spokeswoman Tami Zaun said the number peaked at 4,500 but is down now to 827, with the largest areas affected including Saginaw by Kettle River, Grand Lake and Sturgeon Lake. She also said there are a few scattered, individual outages.

Zaun said the high winds have made it especially difficult for crews to fix outages, where even plowed roads can become covered again in only a few minutes.

1:48 p.m.: Skijoring behind a Dodge

Three young men, probably local college students, were making the most of Friday's blizzard in Duluth. At about 11 a.m. they were four-wheeling in Duluth's Kenwood neighborhood in a green Dodge Dakota pickup.

One was driving, one was riding shotgun and the other was skijoring behind the Dodge. They were moving pretty good, too, until they came across a tree blocking the road. They turned around, with the skier jumping into the bed, and left for points unknown.

By 1:40 p.m. the snow is still falling and the trees are still bending way over. Not quite as far as this morning, but almost. Visibility has improved to about a quarter-mile. Many side streets still unplowed. There's about 10 inches of new snow on the level up here, but it really varies. Our front yard is bare grass blow clean and there's 3-foot drifts in the back.

1:45 p.m. Flights canceled, delayed.

Northwest Airlines is in the process of canceling five of seven scheduled flights into Duluth today. All outbound travel from Duluth International Airport has ceased, but the airline still hopes to keep a 9 p.m. flight from Detroit and an 11 p.m. flight from the Twin Cities on schedule, according to Brian Ryks, executive director of the Duluth Airport Authority.

Allegiant Air also canceled service between Las Vegas and Duluth today. The flight will be postponed to arrive in Duluth at 1:25 p.m. Saturday and depart at 2:25 p.m., loaded with a fresh group of Vegas-bound vacationers.

Ryks said Northwest has advised him it plans a return to a full schedule Saturday.

Ryks said the airport's maintenance crews worked through the night and have done an excellent job fighting snow drifts and keeping runways and taxiways clear. But that hasn't been enough.

"The other issue is visibility. How far you can see and what the ceiling is plays a big part as to whether planes can fly, as well," he said.

On Thursday night, just one inbound flight from the Twin Cities was canceled.

Before the storm hit the Northland Thursday, Duluth received six diverted flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul. Ryks said all those diverted flights managed to get back on their way that same evening.

12:35 p.m.Gas for snow blower

At 9:40 a.m. if you stood outside at the corner of East Eighth Street and Ninth Avenue East by the At Sara's Table/Chester Creek Cafe, all you would hear is the swirling wind whistling around you and the occasional ambulance siren.

But all around, there were faint signs of people struggling against the storm. Some were winning, others, just trying.

Just a couple of homes up from East Eighth Street, along 19th Avenue East, lifelong Duluthian Darren Hill, 39, was blowing the snow out in front of the house he's lived in all his life. The veteran of numerous blizzards doesn't like just waiting out the storm, so by 9:40 a.m. he was shoving the snow blower across his driveway, in a quixotic effort to clear enough of a path to drive out.

His mission? Go out and buy more gas so he could keep his snow blower going.

"It is only going to keep coming down," he promised.

Feeding the hardy

Just down from where Hill was plowing, Barbara Neubert, owner of At Sara's Table/Chester Creek Cafe was having breakfast in her open but nearly empty restaurant.

Friday is the restaurant's busiest day. Normally the breakfast crowd hovers around 100 people, but only five showed up by 10 a.m. this morning.

Neubert figured that might happen, considering everyone who came that morning had to walk. She knew breakfast might be a bust financially, but opened for a different reason, she said.

"We're a neighborhood restaurant, and the neighbors count on us. We have electricity, but some of them don't."

Neubert kept a phone by her plate, because a steady stream of calls were coming in from regulars wondering if the restaurant was open and swapping the latest information on the storm.

Some of her staff of eight weren't able to make it in, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. A few of them simply couldn't make it up the hill.

The restaurant's goal was to open by 10 a.m. but they beat that time by several hours. "We were going to try for 10 o'clock, but our young cook got here at 6 a.m. and he wondered why other people weren't here," she said.

Neubert said the restaurant has managed to remain open despite a lot of storms through the last five years at that location.

During the 2007 blizzard, business remained fairly steady through the storm, Neubert said. She's not quite sure what changed this time.

And then she got another piece of bad news. The truck on the way from the Twin Cities to restock the restaurant got stuck, so Neubert thought she might run short on a few ingredients.

Just three houses away

Shaun Jacobs, 41, who lives on East Ninth Street in Duluth, managed to drive his beat-up, rusted Ford F-250 down to the Technology Village at Superior Street to drop off his girlfriend Friday morning. And then he managed to make it all the way back up the hill. But just as he was turning from 19th Avenue East onto East Ninth Street, his truck slammed into a fresh wall of snow from a city plow. The truck then slid sideways onto a curb.

So that's why Jacobs was there for 10 minutes and counting shoveling snow away from his wheels. His home was within sight. But a home a few hundred feet away might as well be miles away when you're trying to get there on two-wheel drive in a Duluth blizzard.

"That's my house right there," he said, pointing to an old two-story home with an American flag out front whipping around wildly.

After 16 years in Duluth, Jacobs said the snow doesn't bother him all that much, except at moments like these.

"What I don't get used to is the freezing cold," he said. He's also not a big fan of the wind, he said as he was digging out.

"Oh, this wind is horrible," he shouted.

Noon: Marshall Hardware, 4415 E. Superior St., was operating this morning with no electric power. "We're doing everything by flashlight and with a cash box," said co-owner Scott Marshall. The two people working in the store were unable to do simple tasks such as cutting keys and using the credit card machine.

Although they haven't been able to supply everything people want, they were selling basic storm supplies such as snow shovels, gas-powered grills and stoves and candles. "We've had a number of calls about generators," said employee Steve Berguson. But Marshall's doesn't sell them.

Six to eight customers came in between 8:30 and 11 a.m. One of them was John Cosler, who walked about six blocks to get batteries for his televisions. "I knew they would be open," he said. "That's the mom and pop thing. They like to be here for us folks."

11:06 a.m.: Downtown Duluth is a slushy ghost town this morning, as virtually every store and business seems to have taken a three-day weekend.

Even the Starbucks, which stayed open for most of last year's blizzard, had a note on its door saying it was closed until the inclement weather lets up.

One retail store was open - Brownie's Furniture at 225 W. Superior St.

"Though that may change," said sales associate Jim Barrett, "my supervisor just called and said go home."

Barrett said he opened the store at 10 a.m. - after driving there from Morgan Park - thinking that despite the weather, they'd still likely get a few customers. That was true - as he was saying that two people were browsing the merchandise. But Barrett said those were people staying at the Holiday Inn, who likely wouldn't buy anything.

"They're storm refugees," he said. "Looking for something to do."

Another business that was open was the Greenery in the Holiday Center, where Shad Baggenstoss was having a cup of coffee and reading the paper. What brought him there? With work closing and the power going out at his Central Hillside house, he had nothing better to do.

"Just thought I'd check out the action," he said.

The action was mostly outside, where the wind was whipping and rocking the street lights and turning flags upside down. There didn't appear to be any major damage, except for the "orth" of the North Shore Bank sign on 131 W. Superior being scattered across the sidewalk.

Inside, the skywalks were mostly empty, except for the unusual site of Don Bauman and Elden Larson wearing 17th-century colonial uniforms.

The two said they came from the Twin Cities last night to attend a Grand Lodge Masons meeting at the DECC. They explained the uniforms are to promote patriotism and are patterned after the actions of George Washington.

"We're called the heroes of '76," said Bauman.

10:36 a.m.: Reporter John Myers writes from his home near the University of Minnesota Duluth:

Just finished snowblowing out 2- to 3-foot drifts in the driveway but side streets in Kenwood neighborhood still are not plowed so there's no way to get out. Several big drifts on the streets. Busier roads are getting plowed. Actual snowfall now seems lighter but winds still unrelenting.

10:32 a.m.: At Duluth International Airport, a 10 a.m. inbound flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul was canceled today. As of mid-morning, passengers continued to wait at the airport for two outbound flights, including a 5:15 a.m. flight to the Twin Cities and a 6:05 a.m. flight to Detroit.

Neither flight has yet been canceled, but Brian Ryks, executive director of the Duluth Airport Authority, said strong winds and driving snow have hindered de-icing efforts.

As for travelers, Ryks offered the following advice: "If you can rebook, that may be your best option, rather than risk being stranded at the airport."

Ryks said the airport's maintenance crews worked through the night and have done an excellent job fighting snow drifts and keeping runways and taxiways clear. But that hasn't been enough.

"The other issue is visibility. How far you can see and what the ceiling is plays a big part as to whether planes can fly, as well," he said.

On Thursday night, just one inbound flight from the Twin Cities was canceled.

Before the storm hit the Northland Thursday, Duluth received six diverted flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul. Ryks said all those diverted flights managed to get back on their way that same evening.

For now, the airport is waiting to hear if any additional flights will be canceled today. Ryks said Allegiant Airlines' flight arriving at 7:30 p.m. from Las Vegas and departing at 8:15 p.m. still appeared to be a go, as of this morning.

9:57 a.m.: Lakeside residents Jim and Kathy Skoog lost their power about 6:15 a.m.

"We were looking forward to bacon and coffee this morning," Jim said this morning. The Skoogs have an electric stove. "We've just been sitting here. We have a crank radio and we've been listening to that."

Kathy Bergh of Lakeside said her family is having a laid-back day, but they're missing their hot coffee. She said the house is getting cold, but they have a wood stove and will light it when the temperature falls a little more.

"I had a lot of things planned today, but you don't realize how many things take electricity until you lose power," she said. She was planning to do laundry and vacuum, and even her exercise regimen on the treadmill was postponed without electricity.

9:55 a.m.: The blizzard is only a few hours old, but already Rick Hanson, president of Rick's Tree and Stump Removal in Duluth, said that the a crew has been out this morning removing downed trees from driveways.

Hanson said that's the only service that the company will offer today, but starting tomorrow and into next week will work on other downed tree issues.

Surprisingly, Hanson said that he's received only about a half dozen calls from people wanting help with downed trees.

"I think a lot of the calls will start coming in on Monday," he said.

8:55 a.m.: The Duluth Entertainment Convention Center has opened as an emergency shelter. Jeff Papas, spokesman for the city of Duluth, said people should stay where they are unless conditions worsen. People are asked to enter the DECC through the main lobby, where they will find staff.

8:15 a.m.: Reporter John Myers, who lives near the University of Minnesota Duluth, writes:

Huge gust just hit up here, over 50 mph, on the hill overlooking UMD -- where the wind has a straight shot from Wawa into the front of our house. All the windows are coated with snow. We can't see a thing.

When we do venture outside, visibility looks to be about 1/8-mile. The snow is still falling very persistently and sideways. It's drifting in so fast that plows at UMD can't keep parking lots clear. Very few cars out and about.

Power was out from about 3:30-5:30 a.m. but it has been restored. Of course, the hard-wired smoke alarms beeped just enough to wake me up. Roads have not yet been plowed. It's hard to tell how much snow has fallen. In sheltered areas, maybe 8 inches.

Stay home.

8:07 a.m.: Two semi-trailers have completely blocked northbound Interstate 35 near Midway Road, according to Minnesota State Patrol. The dispatcher did not know when that area would be opened again.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says roads are considered hazardous from the New Auburn area all the way up to Superior.

WisDOT spokeswoman Christine Ouellette said there are no road closures, but no travel is still being advised through Friday. She said plows and state patrol officers are out in full force.

7:58 a.m.: Here's what Jon Buller, finance director for the Duluth News Tribune, found this morning:

I groggily wake up at 6:15 a.m. only to listen to the intensive howl of the wind. As I let my dogs out, I mutter under my breath about the near-blinding snow. The dogs frolic in the yard as if they are two kids on a snow day. At least they seem to enjoy winter's last blast.

As I wipe the sleep from my eyes and I peer down our 100-foot driveway, I see what is now going to occupy my day. During the night, one of the pounding 60-mph wind gusts has turned one of the trees on my five acres into a toothpick. No big deal, right? Except it's across the driveway. And me without a chainsaw. Didn't need one prior to my move to Duluth six months ago. So I'm left to ponder my options. After walking out to retrieve my Duluth News Tribune, I've determined that cutting wood by hand is going to be useless until the wind allows me to stand upright. So I sit here typing this and sipping a cup of coffee.

Ah yes, life in the northwoods. Nothing like an April 11 blizzard. Who would have thought that?

7:51 a.m.: About 7,500 Minnesota Power customers, virtually all in Duluth, are without power this morning, according to company spokesman Paul Brissett.

The largest outages are in Lakeside, Congdon, Kenwood and West Duluth neighborhoods as well as around the University of Minnesota Duluth. Smaller outages are scattered across the city, he said.

Service has been restored to about 4,000 customers in the Cloquet area who were without power last night, Brissett said.

7:47 a.m.:Storm hampers TV stations

Both WDIO and Northland's Newscenter are experiencing broadcast problems.

Kyle Underwood, chief meteorologist for WDIO Channels 10/13, said his station is off the air on cable, but is on regular air. He said cable users can hook an antenna into their TV sets to get their broadcast. He wasn't sure when they'd be back on cable.

At Northland's Newscenter, Kelli Latuska said a power failure has limited them to only being to broadcast sound on KBJR Channel 6 and KDLH Channel 3. He said Minnesota Power has a crew at the building working on the problem.

7:33 a.m.: As the morning drive began, the Minnesota Department of Transportation said roads are so bad that if you can, stay home.

There are numerous semis and cars stuck in ditches along highways across the area, according to MnDOT spokesman John Bray, even though he said plows have been running non-stop since the snow started to fall.

"We're advising no driving," he said. "If I was able to, I'd go to the highest pinnacle in Duluth yelling for people to use common sense."

Bray said that none of the roads are closed -- but that's more because MnDOT doesn't have the ability to close them.

Bray said plows will continue to run through the weekend.

7:28 a.m.: The snow and wind got so bad overnight that Duluth pulled its plows off the road around 4:45 a.m., said city spokesman Jeff Papas. Plow drivers went back to work around 6:45 a.m. today, when the sun came up and visibility returned.

But with the high winds, it might not do much good. When the plows were out last night, Papas said they'd go over a road, come back and find that it looked like it had never been plowed.

Papas said while Park Point is still open, no travel is being advised. He also said all city facilities, including city hall and the libraries, are closed for the day.

WDIO-Channels 10/13 is also off the air; KDHL-Channel 3 has sound but no picture. WDSE-Channel 8 and FOX 21 remained on the air.

7:15 a.m.: KBJR Channel 6 was off the air.

7:10 a.m.: So how was drive home last night? News Tribune copy editor/page designer Andrew Krueger says:

Driving home from work at about 11 p.m. last night, I had been lulled into a sense of complacency about the storm.

All evening the radar had shown a virtual "doughnut," with Duluth in its snow-free center. As I drove up Kenwood, only a few flakes were in the air. So, instead of heading directly home, I decided to stop by the Kenwood Super One for a few grocery items (I had avoided the rush of shoppers earlier in the day).

In the 15-or-so minutes I was in the store, the storm decided to show up in full force. To my surprise, when I walked outside heavy snow was swirling around and coating the parking lot that had been bare just a few minutes before.

The drive to my home north of Duluth was a bit of an adventure - the kind of drive where you rely on tire tracks, mailboxes and the occasional, much-appreciated reflective street sign to determine the edges of the road. The twists and turns of Howard Gnesen Road can be tricky even in good weather; they were pretty treacherous last night.

My porch light was a welcome beacon in the storm - not only to help guide me up my driveway, but also as a sign that I still had power. After a quick walk outdoors with my elderly yellow Lab - who seemed to relish standing with her face into the wind, ears flapping with each gust - it was time to close up the house and hunker down for the night.

7:08 a.m.: It going to continue snow and blow throughout the day today

Snow will continue across the Northland all day today, pushed by strong winds with blizzard conditions near Lake Superior.

A blizzard warning remains in effect until 7 a.m. Saturday for the Twin Ports. A winter storm warning is in effect for the rest of the region.

Two to 8 inches of snow has fallen across a broad area of the region. The National Weather Service reports 6.6 inches of snow had fallen at Duluth International Airport by 6:30 a.m. today. Another 5 to 6 inches are expected by Saturday morning.

Snowfall totals have been considerably less than predicted because of stubbornly dry air being pushed into the area by the strong winds.

While snowfall has been less than forecast, the wind is everything officials said it would be. A peak wing gust of 62 mph was reported at the airport shortly before 6 a.m. The strong winds have resulted in downed trees and power lines.

Waves of up to 16 feet are predicted on Lake Superior.

7 a.m.: Blizzard conditions remain in Duluth.

The Duluth Transit Service has canceled bus service today.

Duluth Clinic locations in downtown Duluth, Lakeside, West Duluth and Hermantown are closed. Urgent Care clinic downtown is also closed. Emergency rooms at St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth and St. Mary's Hospital in Superior remain open, according to SMDC.

State offices in St. Louis and Lake counties have been closed. State offices in Carlton, Cook, Itasca and Aitkin counties have not been closed, according to the state's Web site.

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