Old man winter blows into Valley

Gusty winds, colder air follow snow into region today

It sure feels like winter today.

The winter solstice arrived shortly after 5 a.m. this morning, less than 24 hours after the St. Croix Valley was brushed by the northern edge of a powerful winter storm that brought blizzard conditions to parts of southern Minnesota and snarled travel days before Christmas.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation and Minnesota State Patrol re-opened southbound Interstate 35 from Albert Lea to the Iowa board today. MnDOT and the MSP closed that stretch of I-35 about 2:15 p.m. Thursday at the request of the Iowa Department of Transportation due to multiple accidents in I-35 in Iowa.

Travel also slowly improved in southern Wisconsin, according to that state’s Department of Transportation. Although WisDOT’s website reported roads in western Wisconsin in good winter driving condition just east of the Valley, some slick roads were reported around Eau Claire and snow-covered roads were reported in eastern, northern and southern Wisconsin.

The storm dropped 1 to 2 inches of snow Thursday morning in the Stillwater area, according to Dan Effertz of the National Weather Service. He added that snow ended in all but extreme southeastern Minnesota by early Thursday night.

However, Effertz said as the storm moved east over southern Lake Michigan, strong northwest winds moved into the region, causing blowing and drifting snow, reduced visibilities and below-zero wind chill.

“It’s primarily along I-35 east and south of there,” he said about the heaviest snow. “The (Minnesota) Department of Transportation is calling driving conditions difficult in the southeastern part of the state. From what I’m reading here, much of Iowa is recommending no travel.”

Locally, Effertz said winds picked up Thursday morning and continued into the evening.

“The winds didn’t really start picking up until mid-morning,” he said. “They’ll diminish this evening through midnight.”

But Effertz said the wind, combined with colder air behind the storm, sent wind-chill readings plunging below zero.

“It looks like we’re looking for wind chills dropping below zero around midnight and remain below zero through mid-morning (today),” he said.

Holiday travelers heading south on I-35 today could still find difficult driving conditions, according to both MnDOT and Iowa DOT officials.

“Current driving conditions in southeastern Minnesota are fair, and motorists should still use extreme caution when traveling,” said MnDOT on its website today. “No interstate highways or road closures in southeastern Minnesota are anticipated at this time.”

The Iowa DOT website reported slowly improving travel conditions across the state.

“However, many roads remain completely or partially covered with snow and ice pack,” said the Iowa DOT website. “Interstate 35 from Ames to Mason City, both north- and southbound, has been re-opened.”

Iowa DOT closed I-35 in the northern part of the state Thursday and conditions in Iowa had deteriorated to where Iowa DOT snowplows were pulled from some highways due to blowing and drifting snow.

The good news, according to Effertz, is conditions are forecast to improve today through Christmas Day Tuesday.

“Pretty much right through Sunday we’re looking at pretty dry conditions in the eastern part of Minnesota,” he said, adding there is a chance of snow Christmas Eve Monday.

“Right now it’s just a chance. Tuesday is looking dry at the moment and we will have temperatures in the teens forecast for Christmas Day,” he said.