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Scott Johnson rides out blizzard Gigi playing basketball with his daughters Amber Johnson, Karley Rygg and Haley Johnson (left to right) at Choice Health and Fitness in Grand Forks Monday. JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD

Blizzard Gigi provides a day off for some, headaches around region

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For the Johnsons, Monday’s blizzard was the perfect time to play basketball together.

The Grand Forks family escaped the weather at Choice Health and Fitness, where they had the opportunity to spend time together because the kids weren’t in school.

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“It just seems much better than them sitting at home watching TV, and it’s just good family time, too,” said Julie Johnson, as she watched her husband, Scott, play basketball with their three oldest daughters. Youngest daughter Jessica, 5, stayed on the sidelines with Mom.

And the Johnsons weren’t the only ones making the most of their snow day. For some families with kids out of school or UND students with canceled class, the blizzard, dubbed by the Herald as Blizzard Gigi, named for U.S. Olympic silver medal winner Gigi Marvin, brought a welcome day off.

Grand Forks Public Schools, East Grand Forks Public Schools, UND and nearly every other school in the region canceled classes Monday.

Keally Schmeets, a care provider at Wonder Years day care in Grand Forks, explained that the day care had about half of its normal number of kids on Monday because many parents like to spend time with their kids on snow days.

Many of those parents work for UND, which is one of the city’s largest employers, and since classes were canceled, parents didn’t have to worry about taking the day off from work, Schmeets said.

Callie Ronkowski, a UND student, was using the day off to work out at Choice and study for a test, she said.

But other students she knew were staying home to escape from the storm. “Everyone I know is kind of staying home,” Ronkowski said.

The Johnsons’ four daughters all said they were happy to be out of school and playing basketball with their parents at Choice Health.

The girls usually don’t get to join their parents for working out at Choice, because they have school or homework, they said.

“It makes you forget it’s stormy outside,” her mom, Julie Johnson, added.

Effects of the storm

But although the benefits of a day off helped some forget about the storm, one look outside was a reminder that the blizzard also posed hazards and inconveniences. By Monday afternoon, the storm led many businesses and offices, including Choice Health, to close.

Both Choice and the Y closed at 2 p.m., and the Grand Forks Public Library was closed. Altru Clinics in Grand Forks, East Grand Forks, Devils Lake, Cavalier, Drayton, Erskine and Fertile closed Monday.

City and county government offices in Grand Forks and elsewhere in the region also closed early Monday. The Grand Forks County and Grand Forks County Courthouse offices won’t reopen until 10 a.m. today, according to a news release.

And Blizzard Gigi made out-of-town travel practically impossible, with several road closures.

“Conditions out here are about as bad as it can get,” said Lt. David Wolf of the North Dakota Highway Patrol at about 5 p.m. Monday. At the time, he was driving toward Niagara, N.D., to assist a stranded family.

The highway patrol office in Grand Forks had responded to about 15 calls for people stranded in their vehicles, one property accident, and several vehicles and semis in ditches as of 5 p.m., Wolf said.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol closed Interstate 29 between Fargo and the U.S-Canadian border Monday afternoon because of near-zero visibility and dangerous driving conditions. U.S. Highway 2 was shut down between Devils Lake and Crookston, as was Interstate 94 between Bismarck and Fargo.

In Minnesota, the DOT closed state Highway 1 between Oslo and Warren, and the department advised no one travel in the Red River Valley or the rest of northwest Minnesota during the storm.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Highway Department advised people to stay off roads in the county because of snow and poor visibility.

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Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
(701) 780-1102
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