Blizzard Geraldine shut down highways most of Thursday as heavy snow accumulation from Wednesday night mixed with winds of up to 60 mph to cause life-threatening driving conditions.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Carl Jones said the storm unfolded slightly below expectations in regard to snowfall, but wind estimates have rung true. He said it’s hard to determine if the system lived up to the “potentially historic” title it was predicted to have, but impacts were still significant throughout the area.
The weather service received numerous reports Thursday of drivers stranded on closed highways, Jones said.
Interstate 29 closed early Thursday morning from the Canadian border to Fargo, U.S. Highway 2 closed from Devils Lake to Crookston and Interstate 94 closed from Jamestown to Fargo because blowing snow created slippery roads and near-zero visibility, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation.
All northeastern North Dakota cities were under a no-travel advisory most of Thursday, as drivers were strongly advised to stay off the roads because of rapidly changing and dangerous conditions.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation advised drivers not to travel on roads north or west of Thief River Falls because of dangerous conditions. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office reported 5-foot snow drifts northeast of East Grand Forks and closed a portion of County Road 17 Thursday afternoon. U.S. Highway 75 closed from Canada to Perley, Minn., and 23rd Street Northwest closed in East Grand Forks.
The Herald named the blizzard Geraldine after Geraldine Pearson, who has been a Herald carrier since 1981, and in honor of all Herald carriers braving this ugly winter.
The Herald has been naming blizzards for nearly three decades. The paper traditionally names storms after people who are in the news or prominent in the community.
Jones said much of northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota was expected to see between 4-7 inches of snow total. A heavy band of snowfall set up Wednesday night from the James River Valley into the northern Red River Valley. Jones said Grand Forks was on the fringes of the band.
Areas north of Grand Forks was likely to see less snow, with estimates of 2-3 inches. Northwest Minnesota was predicted to get between 4-6 inches.
Jones said Larimore had the highest reported snowfall Thursday afternoon, with 10 inches.
By 4 p.m. Thursday, Grand Forks had 6.1 inches of snow, Hallock, Minn., had 9 inches. Grafton had 6 inches by 6 a.m. and by 9 a.m. Roseau, Minn., had 3 inches and Warroad, Minn., had 2 inches.
Whiteout conditions were reported in open country areas throughout Thursday, and Jones said wind gusts reached around 60 mph.
Jones said snow was expected to fall until about sunset and winds would gradually decrease as snow stops, although Jones said it may remain breezy Thursday night.
Jones warned power outages and downed lines or damaged trees were still possible Thursday afternoon because of high winds. A billboard in Fargo sustained damage from the gusts, he said.
Jones noted the blizzard is tied to a national storm system that created hurricane-strength winds, blizzard conditions and extreme flooding throughout Colorado, South Dakota and Nebraska. He said the intensity of the national storm is more extreme than anything this year and potentially stronger than anything during the last several years.
There have been six blizzards this season, which Jones said is higher than the average of two. He said it’s hard to compare storms across the decades or even season because each storm brings different impacts.
“It’s like comparing apples to oranges because each storm is so unique,” he said.