Valley digs out from winter’s first blast

Gazette photo by Avery Cropp
The driver of a Bobcat front-end loader dumps snow while plowing the parking lot of a Curve Crest Boulevard business this morning. Sunday’s first major winter storm dropped 9 to 12 inches of snow on the St. Croix Valley.

The snowstorm that plowed through the state and St. Croix Valley area Sunday kept snowplows busy, closed or delayed the start at schools and caused other issues Monday.

And a fresh dusting of snow early Tuesday morning slowed commuters still recovering from the aftermath of Sunday’s snowfall.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Bill Borghoff said snow totals in the Stillwater area ranged from 9 to 14 inches. The storm was originally forecast to last through noon Sunday, but the timeframe extended due the system’s slow movement.

“The system slowed down a lot and the snow lasted into the evening hours. The models had indicated it was supposed to end mid-afternoon but the extra time allowed for more heavy snow to fall,” Borghoff said. “The models underestimated the amount of liquid in the systems and there was a little more liquid that turned into snow with the moisture count.”

He added that storms like these are seen infrequently. The storm set record snowfall amounts Sunday in Minneapolis and Eau Claire, Wis.

According to observer reports posted on the local NWS office website, 17 inches of snow was reported in southeast Lake Elmo; 16.5 inches in Forest Lake; 15.8 inches in Hugo, and 13.8 inches in northeast Stillwater.

The heavy snow forced Independent School District 834 and St. Croix Preparatory Academy to delay school starts by two hours Monday. Students in Somerset, Houlton and Hudson, Wis., schools got a much-coveted snow day. Evening activities were also canceled at those Wisconsin schools.

Despite Sunday’s weather, some people braved the roads in the early afternoon and evening hours as snowplow crews worked to maintain good travel conditions.

“The biggest issue we faced was that the snow just kept falling and falling,” said Washington County Engineer Wayne Sandberg.

Sandberg said Washington County plows were out from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, and started clearing the roads again at 4 a.m. this morning. At 10 a.m. Monday, Sandberg said most of the county’s roads were in good shape, adding that crews were looking for sunny skies after  flurries moved through and have the salt and sun melt any snow left on roads.

Work hours were similar for Stillwater plows as well.

“We plowed from 6 a.m. on Sunday until 3 p.m. and then we just stopped. We had a couple of guys keep the major roads open for awhile until we came back around midnight to finish up,” said Stillwater City Engineer Shawn Sanders. “It went pretty well considering the amount of snow we got.”

“We noticed the expectations of the public have increased a bit,” Sandberg said. “I don’t know if it has to do with not having as many storms like this but we just ask folks to hang back and give us room to do our job. Our goal is to get people where they need to go — church, the store, wherever — as safely as possible.”

Sunday’s storm caused other issues. Sanders said a tree fell down on Second and Linden streets in Stillwater. He added that he didn’t know if someone hit the tree or if the snow was just too heavy for it, but it had been removed by mid-afternoon Sunday.

Sandberg reported a few issues in the county as well. Some trees were downed and a couple of snowplows got stuck, which he said is relatively common with such a large amount of snow and they were removed fairly quickly.

The only accident Sandberg heard of involving a plow truck was a fender bender where a motorist apparently ran a red light. Sandberg said there was minimal damage to the truck and no injuries.

“They’re things we don’t really like hearing about but with that much snow things like that happen,” Sandberg said.

After a cold start to the week, highs in the low 30s are expected today, but  a south wind of 10 to 15 mph will keep wind-chills from minus-6 to 4. Tonight will be cloudy and not quite as cold, with lows in the low 20s.

Thursday and Friday will be sunny to partly sunny with highs around 30 both days. The next chance of snow for the region is Saturday.