Winter weather blows in
Winter has finally settled into the lakes area, as more than half a foot of snow was dropped on the ground in Detroit Lakes Monday night, with another six to nine inches expected to fall sometime between Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.
“The chances for accumulating snow will start picking up after midnight (Wednesday) and it will continue to snow through the morning,” said NWS forecaster Jennifer Ritterling on Tuesday afternoon.
“The winds will start picking up too, around 15-20 miles per hour. That’s not blizzard strong, but it will create some problems with blowing and drifting snow.”
The Minnesota Department of Transportation snowplow crews have been out on the road since Monday night, and will continue “at least through tomorrow,” MnDOT public affairs coordinator Jeremiah Moerke said Tuesday.
The local crews cover an area of roughly 20-30 miles around Detroit Lakes, he added.
“We have eight trucks running out of Detroit Lakes, and we run two shifts (of eight operators each),” said Shawn King, MnDOT transportation operations supervisor for District 4, which includes Becker, Big Stone, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Mahnomen, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Swift, Traverse, and Wilkin counties.
“It’s very dependent upon each storm how many hours we work per shift,” King continued. “Most of the time we try to run eight hour shifts, but during the bigger storms we have run two 12 hour shifts.
“We have trucks dedicated for each road. Highway 10 would be our biggest priority.”
It typically takes 2-5 hours to completely clear Highway 10, King noted.
“Then we have Highways 59 and 34, we try to have them cleared within 4-9 hours,” he added.
The smaller highways, like 228, take 6-12 hours to clear. Roads are prioritized according to average daily traffic, King said.
The Becker County Highway Department is responsible for clearing a total of 650 miles of roadway, including 450 miles of paved roads and about 200 miles of gravel, said County Maintenance Superintendent Jona Jacobson.
“On the county’s paved roads, we have 10 routes with 10 different trucks out,” Jacobson added. “For the county’s gravel roads we have four hired contractors that go out and clear them.”
Shifts are scheduled according to the weather.
“I sometimes go out in the middle of the night, 1 or 2 a.m., and monitor the weather, then make a decision and call the drivers out accordingly,” Jacobson said. “It’s tough to predict. This morning we didn’t start until 5 a.m.”
Though he runs a single-shift crew, they still try to keep to an eight-hour schedule, but “they will stay out until they get the snow scraped off as much as they can,” Jacobson said.
On a warmer day like Tuesday, the snow is softer and easier to remove, so the crews might stay out 10-12 hours at a time, he added.
“As temperatures drop, it gets harder to remove the ice and snow,” Jacobson explained, so they try to get more done on the warmer days.
All of northern Minnesota continues to be under a winter storm warning until 6 p.m. today, and blizzard conditions are possible throughout the Red River Valley, according to the NWS forecast.
A winter storm warning for heavy snow means “significant amounts of snow are forecast that will make travel dangerous.” In other words, if you don’t have to travel, stay home.
If there is an emergency requiring you to leave the safety of your home, however, make sure your vehicle is equipped with the following: A properly inflated spare tire, wheel wrench and tripod-type jack; shovel; jumper cables; tow and tire chains; a bag of salt, sand or cat litter and a tool kit.
You should also keep a “winter survival kit” in your car at all times, and replenish it after use, according to information available online at weather.com.
Essential supplies to keep on hand in this kit include: A working flashlight and extra batteries; reflective triangles and brightly-colored cloth; a compass; first aid kit; exterior windshield cleaner; ice scraper and snow brush; wooden stick matches in a waterproof container; scissors and a thick string or cord; non-perishable, high-energy foods like unsalted canned nuts, dried fruits, and hard candy.
In addition, if you are driving long distances under cold, snowy, and icy conditions, you should also carry supplies to keep you warm such as heavy woolen mittens, socks, a cap and blankets.
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.