It’s not spring yet

Winter storm hinders travel, closes schools and businesses

Photo by Deb Gau About six inches of snow fell in Marshall on Monday, covering roads in slush and making it difficult to see. Weather-related crashes and power outages were also reported around the area Monday.

MARSHALL — Poor visibility, slush-covered roads, power outages — Monday wasn’t a good day to venture outside.

A winter storm bringing several inches of wet, heavy snow hit southwest Minnesota Monday, and the National Weather Service said the region will be under a winter storm warning until 6 p.m. today. The weather conditions closed schools and some businesses on Monday and caused accidents around the region.

The city of Marshall has declared a snow removal emergency that will be in effect from 12:01 p.m. today until noon Thursday. Vehicles will need to be removed from the streets during the entire snow emergency, so snowplows can make multiple passes along the streets if necessary.

Snow removal in Marshall will start from the downtown areas and emergency snow removal routes, to major streets and then to residential areas, said Marshall Public Works Director Glenn Olson. Vehicles in signed snow emergency areas will be ticketed and towed, and vehicles on all other routes will be ticketed.

The storm brought more snow than originally expected into the Marshall area, said Alex Ferguson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Sioux Falls, S.D. Spotters in the Marshall area reported around three inches of snow — together with thunder — on Monday morning, and the snow continued to accumulate from there.

The National Weather Service updated a winter weather advisory for the area to a winter storm warning that will be in effect through 6 p.m. today.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Minnesota State Patrol reported slush-covered roads and poor visibility on Monday morning. In the State Patrol district covering southwest Minnesota, both crashes and vehicles going off the road were being reported, said Sgt. Troy Christianson of the State Patrol. Between 6 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., a dozen crashes had been reported, as well as 22 vehicles off the road, Christianson said.

“We’re seeing a lot of whiteout conditions with the snow we have,” Christianson said.

By Monday afternoon, blizzard conditions meant MnDOT was advising no travel in an area including Lyon, Yellow Medicine, Lac Qui Parle, and parts of Murray, Lincoln and Redwood counties. Visibility readings from a MnDOT weather station near Hanley Falls were down to less than half a mile. The no travel advisory was lifted later in the day on Monday.

Snowfall reports on the National Weather Service website were stacking up by Monday afternoon. Around 2:30 p.m., six inches of snow was reported in Marshall. A report from social media said the snow one mile south of Marshall was 10 inches deep. Ivanhoe reported five inches of snow, and Tracy reported 3.5 inches.

More snow is likely in the Marshall area today, with a chance of snow and freezing rain later on, according to National Weather Service forecasts. A daytime high temperature of 28 degrees is expected, with wind gusts as high as 30 miles per hour. It’s possible there will be an inch of new snow accumulation.

As the snow continued to accumulate on area roads Monday, plows were having a hard time keeping up. In Lyon County, snowplows were out on the roads from 8 a.m. until around 4:30 p.m., and would be back on the road by 6 p.m. this morning, said Lyon County Highway Engineer Aaron VanMoer. Because of the wet conditions, he said, plows could only clear paved roads.

“The gravel roads will be pretty soft. They probably won’t get to the gravel roads yet,” VanMoer said Monday. Running a snowplow on a soft and wet gravel road risks damaging both the road and the plow, he said.

MnDOT snowplows were out on area roads starting at 6:30 a.m., said Mandi Lighthizer-Schmidt, public affairs coordinator for MnDOT District 8. In general, she said, MnDOT snowplows are out on the road between 3 a.m. and 10 p.m., “and longer if conditions require it.”

In Marshall, Olson said city crews would be working to get as much snow off the streets as possible. With the wet snow and the possibility of freezing temperatures later on, Olson said another concern for the city is the possibility of blocked storm drains. He encouraged Marshall residents to call the city if they notice a blocked drain, or have water on their street.

Power outages were also reported around the region on Monday. Xcel Energy reported power outages in the Cottonwood, Granite Falls and Clarkfield areas. On Monday afternoon, Lyon-Lincoln Electric Cooperative reported that some outage reports were starting to come in from the Canby area. Lyon County dispatchers also reported a power outage in Minneota on Monday afternoon.

Area schools canceled classes Monday due to the snowstorm.

“We’ve been fortunate, weather-wise,” said Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Scott Monson. There haven’t been many winter weather events this school year. But Monday was different. With the conditions outside, he said, it just didn’t seem worth it to risk putting kids on school buses. “We need people to be safe.”

Monson said he and other school officials would be looking at today’s forecast to try and make an advance decision on whether to delay school that day.

Schools and organizations in the area also cancelled or postponed events scheduled Monday. The Marshall School Board postponed its regular school board meeting, a high school concert and parent-teacher conferences.

At the Lyon County History Museum, an opening reception for the Grand Army of the Republic traveling exhibit was postponed until April 9. Community facilities like the Marshall Area YMCA and the Marshall Adult Community Center canceled activities for the day.

Some area businesses, ranging from Jonti Craft in Wabasso to the State Bank of Taunton and the Tracy Liquor Store, either closed down, closed early or canceled shifts due to weather.

When there’s a winter weather event like Monday’s, Lighthizer-Schmidt urged motorists to call 511 or check with to learn about road conditions in their area.

“Our plow drivers call those conditions in,” Lighthizer-Schmidt said, and the conditions are updated frequently.