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Winter's first blizzard stalls region

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

FARGO - The first blizzard of winter paralyzed North Dakota and parts of Minnesota on Monday, forcing trucks and plows from the roads, knocking out power to thousands and shutting down schools, businesses and medical facilities.

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Now, it's back into the deep freeze, at least for a little while.

Last weekend's unseasonably warm temperatures plummeted Monday and will keep falling through Friday morning, when the low could dip to 20 below, said Pete Speicher, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Forks.

"It will refreeze a lot of this stuff so it's not so slushy," he said, finding perhaps the only positive note of the cold snap.

No travel was advised Monday throughout North Dakota as the second half of what the weather service billed as a "one-two punch" storm system whipped up whiteout conditions that led to a number of accidents in the region.

Authorities closed Interstate 29 from Grand Forks to Canada after a three-semi crash near Pembina backed up 20 cars, and also closed I-94 from Bismarck to New Salem because of a multi-vehicle crash.

At the Stamart Travel Center in north Fargo, Tom Potter decided to hang up his keys for the day after a harried haul from Fargo to Valley City and back on Monday morning.

"There was some spots that you couldn't even see the front of the truck," he said

The driver from Albion, Mich., planned to wait until this morning to do his route to Grand Forks.

"Beats a $400 or $500 wrecker bill, sitting in the middle of the road or hurting somebody," he said. "I'd rather not take the chance."

Most area schools closed, including those in Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead, but a few started late.

The University of North Dakota in Grand Forks called off classes, its first closing because of a storm since 2001, spokesman Peter Johnson said.

North Dakota State University and Minnesota State University Moorhead shut down at 10 a.m., while Concordia College remained open but told students to drive to campus only if conditions allowed.

West Acres mall was among dozens of businesses that closed early, locking its doors at 5 p.m.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation pulled plows from roads in the southeast district because of visibility that ranged from a quarter mile to zero, said Bruce Nord, maintenance superintendent for the district. Roads were slick in spots from the weekend rain.

"With this wind, we're trying to do some sanding, but the sand blows off the road as quick as it comes out of the truck," he said.

Weather service meteorologist Dan Riddle said the storm had "no problem" meeting the criteria for an official blizzard, which requires winds of 35 mph and considerable falling and/or blowing snow with visibility near zero.

Wind gusts topped out at 55 mph in Moorhead, 52 mph in Grand Forks and 51 mph in Fargo.

It was the first blizzard of the winter. The Christmas weekend storm had more snow but not strong enough winds, Riddle said.

The most recent storm didn't produce as much snow as forecast, but overall precipitation of 1 to 1.5 inches was about what was expected, the weather service said.

Fargo received 1.3 inches of total liquid precipitation from Friday morning to noon Monday, including 6.6 inches of snow, Speicher said.

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