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Spring surprise -- DL doubles record for snow in April

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Think this has been the weirdest spring weather in memory? You're right.

April snowfall in Detroit Lakes set a new record this year -- 32 inches -- which is more than double the previous record of 15 inches set in April of 1945, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D.

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The Detroit Lakes data was collected by KDLM Radio, which maintains an official National Weather Service station outside its facilities north of Detroit Lakes.

The storm that dumped more than a foot of snow on the area Saturday resulted in highways closed, numerous cars being stuck, and mail service and newspaper delivery being delayed.

And it didn't even do much good for retailers or cross country ski resorts.

"There were a lot of vehicles stuck, including semis that were jack-knifed," said Becker county Sheriff Tim Gordon.

Many of the motorists who got stuck and blocked traffic were just out sight-seeing, in spite of a no-travel advisory put out by the sheriff's department Friday, Gordon said.

"When we ask them not to travel, we do it for a reason," Gordon said. "There were people driving around seeing how bad it was, which hindered the plows, and they had a hard enough time -- it was heavy, wet and deep, and the bottom three inches were ice compaction."

There were nine ambulance calls and two fire department calls during the storm, some of which were slowed down or blocked by stuck vehicles, he added.

"They (sightseers) burn the emergency system because they shouldn't be out there anyway," Gordon said.

With heavy, blowing snow, visibility was close to zero at times Friday and Saturday, Gordon said.

Postal carriers did what they could on Saturday, but most mail didn't get delivered until Monday, said Detroit Lakes Postmaster Paul Collins.

Trucks left the DL post office at 4 a.m. Saturday to distribute mail to smaller towns around the area, but it was tough sledding, he said.

One truck was stuck for two hours in Audubon. Another got stuck in Dunvilla. A third had to bypass Frazee, go to Perham, and come back when the highway to Frazee was plowed.

"Whenever there is a major blizzard, you just have to do what you can do," Collins added. "There were no plows out Saturday, if there was, it was just emergency routes -- we can't deliver mail if we can't get down a road because there's a foot and a half of snow on the ground."

Business was slow Saturday at L&M Fleet Supply in Detroit Lakes.

"How there could possibly be someone out there without a shovel, I don't know," joked store manager Dan Purkat.

The store did move some winter products, including two snowblowers, but "this late in the season, people aren't willing to spend the money," he said. "They know it's going to melt in two days ... If this had happened in December, we would have sold out of snowblowers."

Maplelag Resort in Sugarbush Township didn't pick up any additional business from all the April snow, and in fact hasn't been charging for skiing at all since early March, said owner Jim Richards.

"We've learned over the past 36 years, we could have 30 feet of snow on March 30, but the season is over, regardless," he said.

Maplelag is a destination cross-country ski resort (though day skiing is available) and if there's no snow, for example, in the Twin Cities, people there quit thinking about skiing, regardless of conditions in Becker County, he said. Early snows are quite a bit more important for the resort business, he added.

If not for all the snow in April, it would actually have been a low-snow season in Becker County, with about 35 inches, compared to 48-56 inches in a normal season, he noted.

It seemed snowier because of the big snowfall in December, which stayed all winter -- unlike the past six years, which have seen thaws or unseasonable rains that washed away the snow, at least for a time, in mid-winter, he said.

The skiing conditions were excellent the past few days, Richards said, and there were a few people out enjoying the new snow -- including Richards himself, who said he is usually too busy to ski.

"I skied more this weekend than I did all winter," he said. "It was just wonderful this morning, great conditions -- there's still a foot of snow in the woods."

He is looking forward to skiing on May 1 and posting the photos on his Web site and on www.skinnyski.com, a site that features condition reports.

Skiing on May 1 would be a first, he said.

"It's never, ever happened in the 36 years we've been here ... not even close," he said.

But, as winter-weary residents have learned this spring, never say never.

Becker County could even receive another shot of snow this weekend, according to Mark Ewens, the data acquisition program manager for the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.

"We're looking at another very similar snow system spreading out into the plains later in the week," he said Tuesday. "It looks like Minnesota lake country is in line."

While predictions four or five days out are "a little shaky," he said, "Based on current indictors, it wouldn't be out of line to see a couple inches later Friday and early Saturday," he said.

The forecast, and predicted snowfall amount, if any, will be refined as the week progresses, he said.

Oh, well. It's good for the farmers, right?

Actually, yes, Ewens said. It may delay planting, but topsoil in lakes country has been much too dry in many places, and the spring snows are taking care of that.

"While it's unusual, it's certainly not unheard of to see snow in April," he added. "Here on the northern plains we can have snow virtually any time of year, except the middle of summer, even in June and August."

Now there's a cheery thought to end on.

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