Blizzard Dolley closes roads, leaves dozens stranded in northeast N.D.A strong winter storm crashed through the Red River Valley early Monday, causing many schools and businesses to close and officials to shut down roads and issue no-travel advisories for much of the area.
By: Brandi Jewett, Grand Forks Herald
Travelers stranded in Grand Forks took refuge in the Alerus Center Monday after area hotels sold out of rooms following a winter storm that closed roads, schools and businesses.
At about 8:30 p.m., city staff and Red Cross volunteers were preparing to shelter about 40 people from the Presidents Day blizzard, according to city spokesman Kevin Dean.
“It’s fairly basic,” he said. “But it’ll keep people from having to sleep in their cars.”
The blizzard, named Dolley by the Herald in honor of first lady Dolley Madison, brought up to 9.5 inches of snow and wind gusts up to 57 mph in some areas and caused treacherous travel conditions.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation and the Highway Patrol closed Interstate 29 from Grand Forks to the Canadian border at about 10 a.m. and kept it closed into the night. Minnesota officials closed U.S. Highway 2 from North Dakota east to Crookston.
“These were the strongest winds we’ve seen in quite a while,” said Vince Godon, a meteorologist with the Grand Forks National Weather Service office.
Much of the Red River Valley was in a no-travel advisory, while other areas were included in weather alerts. The Grand Forks area was in a no-travel advisory from early Monday, and local officials took it a step further, calling for no travel within the city limits.
Emergency personnel spent Sunday and Monday responding to accidents, vehicles in ditches and people stranded in their vehicles. At least two fatal accidents were reported during the storm. A four-vehicle accident killed two people and injured another Monday on Interstate 94 near Barnesville, Minn.
Another man, Dennis Lee Johnson of Cedar, Minn., was killed when his vehicle struck a semitrailer and entered the median Sunday on Interstate 29 near Hillsboro, N.D.
Dozens of cars were stranded Monday both in Grand Forks and on surrounding roads. Emergency workers helped move stranded drivers to truck stops or into nearby businesses to get them out of the cold.
Grand Forks Sheriff’s Office Deputy Bill Lewis says he found 11 cars in the ditch during his morning shift, and he expected that other law enforcement officers saw similar numbers while out on patrol.
“Most of the time, the cars were empty, and the people had already been picked up,” he said.
Blowing snow reduced visibility in the area to near zero.
“Normally, conditions are worse in rural areas,” Godon said. “With this (storm), conditions in town were bad, too.”
Snowplows were pulled from the roads and did not resume operating in Grand Forks until about 2 p.m., according to Grand Forks Police. Authorities said the plows started clearing major streets, but may not make it to some residential areas until this morning.
By 4 p.m., 4.2 inches of snow had fallen in the past 24 hours in Grand Forks, Godon said. Winds were pegged at 35 mph, with gusts up to 51 mph. Wind chills were 27 degrees below zero at about 6 p.m.
The Baudette, Minn., area recorded the most snow at 9.5 inches. Warroad, Minn., was next with 6 inches, and Park River, N.D., followed with 5.5 inches.
A blizzard warning continued until 6 p.m. for northeast North Dakota and the Red River Valley counties in northwest Minnesota, according to the weather service. The warning was downgraded to a winter weather advisory. “We’re still expecting some blowing snow, but visibility won’t be quite as bad,” Godon said about Monday evening.
Godon said he didn’t expect any overnight snow, but wind chills are forecast to drop to dangerous levels.
Area hotels filled up in the wake of Blizzard Dolley.
Katie Hanson, front desk supervisor at Canad Inns, said the hotel is full of stranded guests.
“We’ve actually had to turn a lot of people away,” she said. “A lot of hotels are sold out, and we’re redirecting people to ones we know have open rooms.”
Hanson estimated the majority of the guests were from Canada and were unable to return home because of the closed interstate.
The storm also affected air travel. Several flights in and out of the Grand Forks airport were either canceled or delayed because of the weather.
Patrick Dame, executive director, said the facility’s main runway was closed for two hours because conditions were too unsafe for employees to work on clearing it.
“The snow is blowing so hard nothing stays in any one spot,” Dame said.
The weather service recorded a wind gust of 51 mph at the airport at 5 a.m. Monday.
As of 2 p.m., all paved surfaces at the airport had been cleared and evening flights still were listed as on time, but Dame said they were waiting to see if visibility would improve.
Hector International Airport in Fargo also was reporting canceled or delayed flights because of the weather.
Managing Editor Matt Cory contributed to this report.
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