Storm blankets Upper Midwest with snow, no travel recommended in northern Wisconsin

Tuesday, November 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Minnesota snowplow crews parked their rigs Tuesday because they couldn't keep up with blowing, drifting snow that closed schools for thousands of youngsters from the Plains to the upper Great Lakes.

Willmar, Minn., had more than 28 inches of snow by noon as the storm's heaviest snowfall lingered over west-central Minnesota. At least four traffic deaths had been blamed on the storm. Schools were closed from Nebraska to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, many for a second day.

``The weather is really gross. I mean really bad this year,'' said Ed Kinkle, State Patrol dispatcher in Spooner, Wis. ``We have extremely large amounts of snow with great drifting and blowing.''

Snow fell at a rate of 2 to 3 inches an hour at Willmar, about 100 miles west of Minneapolis, the National Weather Service said.

Snowplow crews were pulled off state highways in parts of southwestern and western Minnesota because of zero visibility and poor road conditions, and the state Department of Transportation urged everyone to stay off roads in that part of the state Tuesday.

``If you don't know how to cuss, this (storm) will teach you,'' said Clara City, Minn., Police Chief Ralph Bradley.

About 20 trucks were parked at the Hillcrest Truck Stop north of Willmar while their drivers waited for the roads to improve.

``They're coming in and eating,'' manager Margaret Serbus said. ``I don't think they're worried, they're just bored.''

One trucker arriving at the Cenex Travel Plaza in Willmar had to wade through waist-high snow drifts to get from his rig to the restaurant, supervisor Christine Just said.

Several drivers bought disposable cameras at the truck stop so they could collect proof of why they weren't on the road. ``The dispatchers didn't believe them,'' Just said.

Conditions were improving in other parts of Minnesota, including the Minnesota area about 100 miles east of Willmar. Operations were close to normal at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and Northwest Airlines had only minor delays, said Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch. On Monday, Northwest canceled 72 flights at the airport.

Travel also was not recommended in Wisconsin's northern counties because of ice, blowing and drifting snow and poor visibility, said State Patrol Sgt. Eric Erickson. Only one lane was open on some highways because plows couldn't keep up with the blowing snow, officers said.

``This is the worst snowstorm we've had in a long time,'' said Pat Golomb of Butternut, Wis.

But she added: ``The snowmobilers say it's white gold because they wait for this.''

Wind gusted to 45 mph Tuesday at Superior, Wis., and as much as 15 inches of snow was possible across the northern part of the state by late in the day. Fourteen inches had fallen by midmorning on Michigan's Upper Peninsula and at Grand View, Wis., as the storm followed a northeasterly track into Canada, the weather service said.

Sixteen inches had fallen at Mitchell, S.D., since the storm arrived there early Monday, with 14 at Crofton, Neb., the weather service said. Sioux Falls, S.D., got a record 11.4 inches Monday; the city's previous record for the date was a mere 3.9 inches, set in 1988.

Schools were closed Tuesday in northern Wisconsin and parts of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and scores of schools remained shut down for a second day in parts of South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska.

On Monday, a stretch of more than 140 miles of Interstate 80 was closed for part of the day from Big Springs, Neb., west to Cheyenne, Wyo.

Minnesota had three traffic deaths blamed on slippery highways and Wyoming had one.