Highways close as snow continues to blanket region
Highways are closed throughout the region as blizzard conditions ramp up on Friday, Oct. 11, and snow continues to blast the region, pairing with heavy winds. Meteorologists warn that the worst is still to come.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation closed Interstate 29 north of Grand Forks and Highway 2 is closed from Rugby to Larimore. Interstate 94 is closed west of Fargo.
Roads in and around Devils Lake are covered with snow and winds are creating whiteout conditions, the department advised. Secondary state highways in the area are impassable and blocked. Plows nearby are being pulled from the highway because of zero visibility, but will resume plowing when conditions are safe.
The NDDOT issued a no-travel advisory for the rest of the northeastern and central portions of the state. The storm has caused icy roads with limited visibility, though meteorologists predict the worst of the storm is just getting started -- forecasts call for between 1 to 3 feet of snow near Devils Lake and over a foot in Grand Forks.
“Honestly, as a meteorologist, you don’t know what to think when you first see stuff like that forecast and you’re kind of careful in what we advertise. But, unfortunately, it does look like they do have the potential to see nearly 3 feet in the Devils Lake region,” National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Lynch said.
More than 275 homes lost power in Pembina County and another 119 in Grand Forks County early Friday, according to the NoDak Electric Cooperative. Repairs were made and power was viable again in many areas by early afternoon.
The weather service warned that there’s an increased chance for trees to take out power lines because the storm hit early enough that most trees still have leaves. That means more space to accumulate snow.
"A lot of the outages have been caused by branches of trees contacting the line and bringing it down," said Blaine Rekkon from the electric cooperative. "It's been a lot of single wire breaks that we've been out on."
Rekkon advised people to stay away from downed lines, as they may still be energized.
The snow did not let up overnight in areas west of Grand Forks, though in the city the precipitation was “going back and forth between kind of a messy mix of light snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle and sleet,” Lynch said.
About a foot of snow was reported in Lakota, Arvilla and Voss, N.D. on Friday morning. Wales had the highest report--measuring in at 15 inches. Grand Forks had 2 inches of snow by 7 a.m.
The second portion of the storm system, which moved into the area from the Rocky Mountains, will begin Friday morning. Lynch said winds will pick up, likely causing a blizzard in Nelson County, with potential to spread further. Winds in Grand Forks are likely to hover around 30 to 35 mph, but Lynch said it’s not out of the question to see gusts near 50 mph.
Blizzards occur when falling snow pairs with sustained winds over 35 mph to create less than a quarter-mile of visibility.
Numerous businesses and schools, including UND, closed their doors on Friday in anticipation of the brutal storm. The Minnesota Department of Transportation advised roads in the northwestern portion of the state were completely covered with slush or snow.
Lynch warned drivers to listen to local authorities about road conditions and avoid travel, if possible. There are generally more accidents during the first snowstorm, he said, but the extremes of this storm make driving even riskier.
“As the snowfall rates increase today, you will start to see the road conditions deteriorate,” Lynch said. “With the slower snowfall rates and lighter snow, the road temperatures are doing us a favor now and melting that a little bit, but the faster it snows and the harder it snows, the less likely that is to happen. And the road temperatures will also start to fall, which is not going to help our case.”
There was no damage reported overnight Thursday, but Lynch said things could change as the heaviest portion of the storm takes over Friday.
“When I see big, impactful storms like this, a little part of me wants to be wrong,” he said. “I don’t really want it to be that bad, but it does look like this one is winding up to be a big one.”
The Red River Valley is simultaneously under a flood warning after the rainiest September in Grand Forks history caused basements to flood and stranded crops in fields too muddy to harvest. The Red River is currently at 33.5 feet, but is expected to reach 39 feet by mid-next week. The river already is at minor flood stage; it reaches moderate flood stage at 40 feet.
Lynch said there were several inches of rain that fell in Grand Forks before the snowfall; though it’s unclear exactly what that may mean for the region, he said it will likely have an impact.
A storm last year, also on Oct. 10, dropped 5.7 inches of snow in Grand Forks and 19.2 inches at the Air Force base. Lynch said the storms are very similar, but this one packs a bigger punch.
“This one is significantly stronger, and it’s carrying a lot more moisture,” he said. “The one last year is definitely a wet storm, but this one is carrying an anomalously high amount of moisture.”
Herald reporter Adam Kurtz contributed to this report.