‘A losing battle’

Area county highway departments put in long days with heavy, wet snow, schools out up to two days

Photo by Jody Isaackson A car was left in the ditch at the intersection of Highway 23 and Lyon County Road 73 Tuesday morning.

MARSHALL AREA — It was called the worst storm of the season by area highway officials.

“It was a losing battle,” Murray County Engineer Randy Groves said. “The wind kept blowing the snow onto the roads, and traffic kept packing it down.”

Snow accumulations ranged from 4 inches in Granite Falls/Yellow Medicine County, 10 inches in the Lyon County area, and 14 inches west of Canby as early as 3 p.m. Monday and more came on Tuesday.

Roads were icy and packed snow with visibility dampened by blowing and drifting snow.

Getting the roads clear for travel falls upon the shoulders of the various highway departments.

County (and city) plows and motor graders were out longer than usual, putting in longer days Monday and Tuesday as they cleared away the extra heavy, wet snow for commuters going to work.

“We went out at 8 a.m. Monday, which is our normal work time, but stayed out later,” Lyon County Engineer Aaron VanMoer said Tuesday. “We were out by 6 a.m. (Tuesday) and ran until dark, for 10 hours. The wet snow is hard on our equipment.”

VanMoer said that he had 10 trucks with plows and three motor graders clearing snow. On Monday, it was just the blacktops.

“The snow came down so fast, we put a higher priority on the blacktops and made two rounds,” he said. “Tuesday, we ran one round on the blacktop and one on the gravel roads.”

He understood that there were some rural residents without electricity who were upset with the gravel roads getting left undone Monday, but with the snow continually coming down harder and harder it was hard to keep up.

VanMoer planned to have his crew out two hours early again this (Wednesday) morning to make sure travelers had clear roads.

The National Weather Service indicates that there will be a northwest wind from 10-15 mph today that will keep trying to move the wet snow across the road.

However, wet snow tends to stick to the roads, said Redwood County Engineer Keith Berndt.

“Fortunately, the sun is coming out, and that helps our salt to melt the snow,” he said Tueday.

Redwood County had 10 trucks and six motor graders out clearing snow the past couple of days. They, too started at 6 a.m. Tuesday, allowing for the Redwood Valley Schools to start 2 hours late instead of closing for the day as many of the Marshall area schools did.

“We had five blades, 6-7 trucks plus loaders and skid steers out moving snow,” Yellow Medicine County Engineer Andy Sander said. “There was 13-14 inches of snow out west of Canby, but about 4 inches in Granite Falls. The roads are open but slippery. Use caution.”

Also in Yellow Medicine County, 10 motorists overestimated their ability to stay on the road, Sheriff Bill Flaten said.

“We found or were called to 10 cars in the ditch,” Flaten said. “Fortunately, there were no accidents like two cars sliding into each other.”

Flaten said the road conditions had been horrible, but the county highway department was out working hard to get the roads cleared.

Murray County Highway Department sent out 13 plows, Groves said. They started two hours early on Tuesday, as is their practice on snow days, and worked late Monday to try to keep up.

The snow and wind Monday caused power outages around the Marshall area. Excel Energy reported outages in the Clarkfield, Granite Falls and Cottonwood areas. The Lyon-Lincoln Electric Cooperative had crews responding to outages until around 11 p.m. on Monday, said general manager Tim O’Leary.

“It was mostly fuses, and things like that,” O’Leary said. Monday’s storm covered power lines with frost and snow, and the wind caused the lines to “gallop,” which led to outages, he said. There were also two broken utility poles reported, he said.

O’Leary said the first outage reports for Lyon-Lincoln Electric Cooperative started coming in around noon Monday. He estimated around half of the reports came from the Canby area, and the rest from areas east and south of Marshall. Although line crews were sent out to help, poor road conditions meant it was slow going.

Around 100 Lyon-Lincoln Electric Cooperative services were without power overnight, and crews were working on them Tuesday, O’Leary said. With the possibility of more wind, there could still be some future outages, he said.

Area schools were out of class for one to two days as the storm blasted through the region.

Redwood Valley delayed the start of school Tuesday by two hours so that the snow plows have an opportunity to clear the roads and spread salt as needed for safer passage for the buses and other motor vehicles.

Lakeview Public School in Cottonwood was one of those out of school for both Monday and Tuesday.

Superintendent Chris Fenske said that one of the days will be made up April 2 with a virtual school day. They can accomplish their assignments remotely.

“We put safety first and make the best decision we can when it comes to storms,” Fenske said. “In this case, the students will make up the day April 2 and essentially work from home.”

Students in grades 3-12 use iPads on which teachers can upload learning material, videos, notes, PowerPoints, he said. Pre-K through 2nd grade use Choice Cards.

The Murray County Central School District was closed Monday and Tuesday, as well. They received up to 8 inches in the northern end of the county, Deputy Chris Lewis said.

“We had only a couple of vehicles go into the ditch and not much for property damage,” Lewis said.

Law enforcement personnel do their best to assist motorists who have the unfortunate run-in with icy roads.

The Marshall Police Department reported a total of 19 incidents Monday where law enforcement officers assisted members of the public, including people with stuck vehicles. Many of those incidents were reported between 2 and 5 p.m. Monday.

Lyon County Deputy Eric Wallen said that the Lyon County Sheriff’s Department was involved in 162 assists during this snowstorm. Those along the highways, they passed along to the Minnesota Highway Patrol.

“We had 29 public assists, four accidents with property damage and other in other categories,” Wallen said. A public assist involving icy or snow-packed roads usually means helping drivers get their vehicles unstuck or out of the ditch, he said.

Today, the National Weather Service calls for mostly cloudy skies, with a high near 27 and a northwest wind from 10 to 15 mph. Tonight, mostly cloudy, with a low around 13 and a northwest wind 10-15 mph.

Thursday should be mostly sunny, with a high near 28, with a west by northwest wind 5-10 mph becoming south southwest in the afternoon.