Heading for more snow

Officials warn of dangerous driving conditions

Photo by Jenny Kirk Despite the extreme winter weather recently, residents on DeSchepper Street in Marshall took time to build a whimsical creation.

MARSHALL — Significantly more snow fell throughout the day than was forecast for the Marshall area on Tuesday, making travel extremely difficult. And the outlook for today and Thursday is projected to bring its own challenges with additional snowfall and cold temperatures.

According to Brad Adams, observing program leader out of the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Weather Forecast Office, the area stretching just north of Sioux Falls to Marshall received considerably more snow than the 1-3 inches that was forecast.

“There’s a very narrow band of moderate to heavy snow that developed here in South Dakota and quickly spread to southwest Minnesota,” Adams said. “It’s certainly a small area, about 15-20 miles wide. We are estimating rates of about 2 inches per hour during the heavy snowfall.”

According to some reports, about 5-6 inches fell by mid-afternoon in the Marshall area.

“We have people out at the wastewater plant east of town that measure there for us and they reported 6 inches so far,” Adams said. “That was around 3:30 p.m.”

Adams was optimistic that the snow would taper off about 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“It’s going to create some problems for people trying to get home,” he said. “There’s not a lot of wind, so that helps a little bit.”

Conditions are expected to settle down somewhat until mid-afternoon today, when another winter weather advisory goes into effect.

“There’s a bit of a break through the day hours (today), but then get ready for another round (tonight) and Thursday,” Adams said. “A winter weather advisory goes into effect at 3 p.m. (today) and goes till 9 p.m. on Thursday. There’s another significant snowfall event coming our way, according to predictions. We’re looking at a total snowfall of 3-6 inches and unfortunately, there will be some gusty winds.”

The blustery conditions will be made worse by the cold temperatures that are expected to creep back into the area.

“It could be as low as zero Thursday morning,” Adams said. “With winds out of the northwest at 30-40 miles per hour, the wind chill could also be as low as 20 below zero by Thursday morning.

Adams said the system coming in this afternoon and evening is projected to create a more wide-spread snowfall amount than what occurred on Tuesday.

“Thursday is going to be a mess,” he said. “We didn’t really expect this much (on Tuesday), but there was a real narrow band that produced significantly more than forecasted.”

While it’s not completely unusual, Adams noted that an active pattern right now is responsible for the re-occurring snowstorms.

“It is winter, but we’re in an active pattern,” Adams said. “There are quite a few systems bringing moisture. All the ingredients are coming together for pretty efficient snow-making.”

As the snowfall got heavier in southwest Minnesota on Tuesday afternoon, it created slippery road conditions and poor visibility. Marshall area law enforcement reported multiple crashes and vehicles in roadside ditches. The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s travel information site warned of roadways completely covered in snow, as well as crashes and vehicle spin-outs on Highway 23. Around 4 p.m., MnDOT reported a stalled vehicle blocking traffic on U.S. Highway 59 north of Marshall.

The high number of calls to tow stuck vehicles was a challenge for towing services in the Marshall area. For a time on Tuesday afternoon, Pulver Towing in Marshall said it went into a “code blue,” a company policy where the business only takes on tow calls at the direction of law enforcement, for emergencies like vehicles blocking the roadway.

Weather conditions led to some services and events being canceled in the Marshall area on Tuesday night. Community Transit said it was stopping its service in Marshall and Lyon County. Marshall Public Schools announced it was canceling events Tuesday night, including the Willmar at Marshall hockey game, and the girls basketball game at Willmar. Both the boys and girls basketball games between RTR and Lakeview were canceled Tuesday.

On Tuesday, MnDOT called for motorists to put their headlights on while driving. Snowplow operators reported that it was difficult to see vehicles on the roads during the snowstorm. Drivers should put their headlights on manually, and not rely on automatic settings, MnDOT cautioned.

MnDOT said snowplow crews were out on the roads Tuesday. The average plow route in MnDOT District 8, which includes Lyon County, is 60 miles round-trip, a MnDOT news release said. In difficult conditions, it can take up to four hours to plow a route. Plows are generally out from 3 a.m. to 10 p.m., or longer if conditions require it.

The city of Marshall posted on its Facebook page that roads in the Marshall area are listed as completely covered with very low visibility due to heavy falling snow.

“If you must travel, please take your time and drive extremely carefully and manually turn on your headlights,” the statement said. “There have been many reports of vehicles off the roadways as well.”

On Tuesday night area schools, including Marshall, Lynd, Milroy ECHO, RTR, Ivanhoe, Lake Benton, and Minneota, said they would be two hours late.

— Deb Gau also contributed to this story