Snowstorm affects swath of Midwest; roads closed in southern Minnesota

A winter storm stalled over southern Minnesota on Tuesday, blocking a major interstate and causing havoc from eastern Colorado to Michigan.Minnesota officials closed all state roads in 10 southwest Minnesota counties. Airports reported hundreds o...

East bound traffic was crawling along Interstate 94 through St. Paul as a storm dropped more than 4 inches of snow on St. Paul on Tuesday, February 2, 2015, 2016. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)

A winter storm stalled over southern Minnesota on Tuesday, blocking a major interstate and causing havoc from eastern Colorado to Michigan.
Minnesota officials closed all state roads in 10 southwest Minnesota counties. Airports reported hundreds of canceled Midwestern flights.
Before it resumed its move northeast, snow fell at a rate of 1 or 2 inches an hour in much of the southern half of Minnesota on Tuesday afternoon, with nearly a foot in places before sunset. Wind, especially in southwestern Minnesota and nearby parts of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota, whipped up a blizzard.
The Minnesota State Patrol investigated 370 crashes between 6 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Thirty-six injuries, two serious, were reported. Another 309 vehicles spun out or went off the road due to weather, the patrol reported.
In downtown Minneapolis, a pedestrian was struck and killed on Hennepin Avenue at the onset of rush hour. Minneapolis police said the woman, who will be identified by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, died at a nearby hospital after being hit by a vehicle while crossing the snow-covered street.
At sunset, the heaviest snow totals were from northeastern Nebraska and southeastern South Dakota into southwestern Minnesota. But many areas, including parts of the Twin Cities, had more than half a foot.
In Minnesota, the heaviest snow fell south of a line from Willmar to St. Cloud to Hinckley. Snow slowed late Tuesday afternoon in extreme southeastern Minnesota.
In the southwest, near Worthington, several truckers had already pulled off of Interstate 90 and called it a day by late morning. About 40 semitrailer rigs were visible at noon behind the Blue Line Travel Center.
Sim Phouangphet was prepared to spend the night at the Blue Line.
“I’m stuck here,” said Phouangphet, who’s employed at the travel center as a cashier. “I’ll be working two shifts, if not three. I kind of knew that ahead of time, so I prepared myself.”
Phouangphet arrived at work at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, and said she’d remain at the Blue Line until at least 11 p.m. Another shift seemed likely, depending on traveling conditions.
Even in areas with relatively little snow, such as west-central Minnesota, visibility was scarce. In that area, as well as the Twin Cities, city streets were worse than interstates and highways that had been cleared.
Authorities in Martin County in southern Minnesota pulled their snow plows off the roads as some operators reported they could see no further than the plow on the front of their trucks.
Many Twin Cities workers left early Tuesday, clogging home commute routes early in the afternoon. On freeways, drivers faced a range of conditions ranging from slushy to packed snow. Ramps and most side streets were slick.
Minnesota Department of Transportation officials warned drivers of snow plow dangers.
"If a car and snow plow collide, a car is probably not going to win," MnDOT's Kevin Gutknecht said.
Travel was not advised Tuesday afternoon and night across southern Minnesota, and adjoining parts of neighboring states.
The National Weather Service reported poor visibility and white-outs along Interstate 90, prompting its closure east of Albert Lea, as well the closure of part all state roads in 10 southwestern Minnesota counties. Wind speeds of 25 to 30 mph an hour occurred, with gusts of up to 40 mph.
Interstate 29 between Sioux Falls, S.D., and Sioux City, Iowa, was closed much of the afternoon.
A blizzard warning was in effect across southwestern and south-central Minnesota until 6 a.m. Wednesday,
Fred Rose of Richmond, Va., set out from Minneapolis early Tuesday for Worthington’s JBS facility. He was to pick up slaughtered hogs for transport back to Virginia, but wasn’t going anywhere after arriving.
“I pulled off a couple of hours ago,” Rose said. “I’d been listening to the National Weather Service and following things on the GPS. Sure enough, the weather is just what they said it was going to be.”
Rose comes through Worthington weekly, and Tuesday’s weather was the worst he’d seen so far in the city. He has witnessed plenty of nasty driving conditions, though, as he has 38 years of trucking experience.
“When you think you’ve seen everything, that’s when you make your mistakes,” said Rose, who planned to spent the night in his truck.
Businesses throughout the Worthington area either closed early or kept their docks locked all day long. Among the many cancellations was Tuesday’s second shift at JBS -- Worthington’s largest employer -- and county and municipal offices took steps to call it a day early.
Some areas in southern Wisconsin were receiving light rain, mist and drizzle, while a large swath from the southwestern part of the state to Green Bay in the northeast received the state's heaviest snow. The storm was headed to Michigan, but less snow was falling in Wisconsin than to the west.

Forum News Service reporters, including Ryan McGaughey, contributed to this story.

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Big rigs find shelter at the Blue Line. Tim Middagh/Daily Globe

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