Rain, snow and fog

Wind, ice send vehicles into ditches

Photo by Deb Gau Vehicles traveled along Highway 23 in Marshall Thursday afternoon. Travel conditions got bad quickly on Thursday, as high wind gusts kicked up and road surfaces became icy and slushy.

LYON COUNTY — The weather brought more bad news to southwest Minnesota on Thursday, with high wind gusts and icy roads sending vehicles into ditches around Lyon County. The good news, however, was that there wasn’t more rain or snow to add to flooding on roads and in basements.

“I feel better today than I did yesterday” about flooding preparations in Lyon County, said county emergency manager Tammy VanOverbeke. However, she said, the potential for flooding in the future depends a lot on how long-term weather conditions turn out. “I’m keeping preparedness on my mind.”

Lyon County was in a winter weather advisory on Thursday, as light snow combined with very strong wind gusts blew through the area. The National Weather Service said wind speeds were expected to be as high as 55 miles per hour. The force of the wind, combined with roads covered in a mix of ice, slush and snow, sent multiple vehicles off the road Thursday afternoon.

While today is forecast to be breezy, southwest Minnesota will be heading into a period of sunnier weather, the NWS said. Daytime high temperatures will get into the 30s over the next few days, with low temperatures around 20 degrees.

Officials in Lyon County had been bracing for flooding after Wednesday, when rain started falling on top of the thick layer of snow that accumulated this winter. VanOverbeke said a county-wide meeting was held Wednesday night to discuss flood preparations.

“Just about every city in Lyon County was represented,” VanOverbeke said.

After the Lyon County meeting, and a statewide flooding conference call on Thursday, VanOverbeke said it looked like the potential for flooding in Lyon County wasn’t as bad as she initially feared. Area communities have taken precautions like ordering sandbags or putting them around key infrastructure like sewer lift stations.

“Things are probably looking pretty good for right now and the next 7 to 10 days,” she said. A forecast with temperatures below average but not too cold would be helpful, she said. However, there could still be flooding risk in the long term, especially if the region gets more spring rain.

In Tracy, which experienced flooding during last summer’s extreme rains, City Administrator Kris Ambuehl said city employees were working to clear catch basins and keep water off the roads. However, he said there had been reports of vehicles stuck in slushy alleyways.

VanOverbeke said it’s still important for county residents to be prepared for flooding in homes and other buildings. Residents should make sure their sump pumps are in working order, she said, and discharge them away from their homes. In very wet conditions, she said residents should consider limiting their water use, to ease the burden on wastewater systems.

“It’s still not too late to get flood insurance, though it’s getting close,” VanOverbeke said. Residents don’t have to live in a floodplain to get flood insurance, she said.

Heavy snow and rain have taken a toll on roofs and buildings in the area. On Wednesday evening, some brick fell from the roof of Tracy’s municipal building and hit a gas meter below, Ambuehl said. The Tracy Fire Department responded to the gas leak. By Thursday, Ambuehl said the damage to the roof had been repaired with new flashing, and the municipal building’s gas meter had been replaced.

The brick also hit and broke the piping protecting the building’s cable access connection, although the cables weren’t damaged, Ambuehl said.

Earlier in the week, the roof of a hog finishing barn in rural Minneota collapsed, with 90 swine still inside. Ed Laleman said he went out to do chores on Sunday and found the roof collapsed.

“It’s the first time we had anything go down with snow,” Laleman said, although he said there have been a lot of barns affected by snow this winter.

Laleman said it was lucky the hogs in the barn were being sold, or the barn would have been more full when the roof collapsed. He said three hogs were lost.

“We’re going to rebuild,” he said of the barn.