April blast … knocks out power

Crews battle blizzard conditions to restore electricity to hundreds of people in southwest Minnesota

Photo by Deb Gau As high winds and snow blew across southwest Minnesota on Thursday morning, even the visibility in Marshall was spotty at times. State highways in the area were temporarily closed during the worst of the storm.

MARSHALL — Hundreds of people in southwest Minnesota were left without electricity Wednesday night and Thursday, as ice and high winds joined the mix of winter weather hitting the region.

Travel in the Marshall area was also a no-go for part of Thursday, as the Minnesota Department of Transportation closed roads due to dangerous driving conditions.

On Thursday afternoon, Lyon-Lincoln Electric Cooperative was trying to restore power to around 200 members in areas near Lynd, east of Russell, and north of Balaton and Tracy. LLEC General Manager Tim O’Leary said crews were working to repair damage including 30 broken utility poles.

“At least one crew has been out since 1 a.m. this morning,” he said. LLEC hoped to have power restored by Thursday evening.

Earlier in the day, the number of cooperative members without electricity was higher. In a post on LLEC’s Facebook page Thursday morning, the cooperative said 300 to 400 members in the area between Russell and Tracy had lost power.

“Our consumers have been very patient,” as line crews responded to the outages, O’Leary said.

The city of Ruthton was another community left without power on Thursday. The Russell-Tyler-Ruthton School District announced it will have an E-learning day today, partly due to the lack of electricity.

Factors like high winds, downed trees and ice on power lines all contributed to power outages across southern Minnesota on Thursday, said O’Leary and John Marshall, community relations manager for Xcel Energy.

Around 13,000 Xcel customers were affected by outages in communities from Mankato to Montevideo, Marshall said. On Thursday morning, Xcel’s online outage map showed power outages in Cottonwood, Hanley Falls, Wood Lake, Slayton, and around the Balaton, Tracy and Garvin areas.

“We’ve got lots of crews responding,” Marshall said — about 400 overall, he said. While crews worked to restore power, Xcel was continuing to monitor the weather.

Marshall thanked Xcel customers for their patience, as crews worked to restore power. Xcel was continuing to monitor weather conditions, he said.

O’Leary said LLEC had also prepared for spring snowstorms, especially after a similar storm hit southwest Minnesota last April. However, while crews were able to get to downed power lines and damaged poles, he said visibility was sometimes a problem while driving there.

Poor visibility was one reason the Minnesota Department of Transportation closed state highways in the Marshall area Thursday morning. Although the roads were later opened again, a no-travel advisory was in place for area counties — including Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Redwood and Yellow Medicine counties — until mid-afternoon.

Even with a lull in the storm improving visibility, MnDOT said roads in the region are still covered with snow and ice. Motorists are advised to slow down, and drive according to the weather conditions.

While power outages in the area were a concern Thursday, Lyon County Emergency Manager Tammy VanOverbeke said there seemed to be fewer reports of people stranded in their vehicles than there were during previous storms.

“I think people are kind of staying home,” VanOverbeke said. It was a positive thing, for both emergency responders and members of the public, she said.

Thursday’s round of winter weather included more than just snow — there was thunder and lightning early that morning.

In addition to thunderstorms and sleet, some areas of southwest Minnesota reported pea-sized hail, said Lance VandenBoogart, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Sioux Falls.

By 8 a.m. Thursday, 10 inches of snow had fallen in Marshall, according to readings from the Marshall city wastewater plant. The snow contained about 1.6 inches of moisture.

High wind gusts were also reported around the region on Thursday morning, the NWS said. The highest wind gust in Marshall, reported at the Marshall airport, was 39 miles per hour. Even higher wind speeds were reported in Hendricks, with a gust of 46 miles per hour, and Lake Benton, with a gust of 59 miles per hour.

Marshall remains in a blizzard warning until 7 a.m. today.

VandenBoogart said the forecast included more freezing drizzle on Thursday night, with another round of snow. Around 4-5 inches could fall overnight, with snow gradually decreasing until about noon today.