Keeping us humble: Spring snowstorm drops 8-10 inches on lakes area between Thursday-Friday
Just when residents of the Detroit Lakes area were beginning to think this unusually long, cold, snowy winter was behind them, Mother Nature blasted the region with a spring blizzard that caused multiple accidents, event cancellations and even a few temporary road closures .
"Yesterday (Thursday) afternoon we had six car accidents in the span of two hours," said Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steve Todd, noting that there were four more crashes reported between late Thursday afternoon and early morning Friday as well.
"The snow was just so wet and heavy, it made the roads pretty slippery." Todd said, "and during the early afternoon visibility was really bad, even here in town, which is unusual."
He added that during the height of the storm, visibility was reduced to about half a block.
Minnesota State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow said state troopers were kept very busy throughout the day Thursday, and Friday morning as well, with "hundreds" of crashes and vehicles in the ditch reported throughout the state, though the statistics had not been compiled prior to this issue's press deadline.
"There were a significant amount of jackknifed semis," Grabow said, noting that in 20 years with law enforcement, he couldn't remember ever seeing more of them result from a single storm.
He added that most of those incidents involved semis that were pulling trailers which were empty, or carrying light loads.
"What those (empty) trailers end up becoming is just big wind-catchers," Grabow said, adding that there were several incidents where the jackknifed semis closed both lanes of traffic on the highway — sometimes in both directions — for an hour or more before they could be removed.
He had some harsh words for those who didn't pay attention to the traffic and weather warnings, both in advance of and during the storm.
"It was obviously poor (traveling) conditions," Grabow said. "With all of the information that was put out there, so many of these people still made poor decisions, whether it was to drive too fast or just being out there when they shouldn't have. This wasn't our first storm (of the season)... that was the frustrating thing about it."
In fact, aside from all the weather advisories that were issued in the days and hours leading up to the storm, Highway 10 between Moorhead and Audubon was actually closed to traffic between 5:30 p.m. Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday, while I-94 between Osakis and Moorhead was closed during that same time frame, until 7 a.m. — which meant that people shouldn't have been heading out on those roads at all.
"Everybody is sharing our roadways, and when people don't make better (driving) decisions, it can affect all of us," Grabow added.
Sheriff Todd Glander said that while his deputies were called to assist with several accidents within the city of Detroit Lakes, and on the state highways, the county roads were kept fairly clear of traffic-related incidents during the storm — or if there were any, they weren't reported to the county dispatch office.
"For us here at the sheriff's office, it wasn't too bad," he added.
Tom Grafenauer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, says spring snowstorms like this one aren't that uncommon in the region.
"They usually occur once every two or three years, somewhere in the region," he said.
Grafenauer added that people in the Detroit Lakes area had anywhere between 8-10 inches of snow dropped on them during this storm, which was typical throughout the region.
"Looking around the region, the Fargo-Moorhead area generally got 8-10 inches," he said. "A little further south (of Detroit Lakes), around Fergus Falls, they got around 8 inches, while going east and up into the Bemidji area they got about a foot or so."
Down near the North Dakota-South Dakota border, the Havana area saw accumulations in the range of 17.5 inches, while some areas of South Dakota, west of Watertown, had upwards of two feet of snow.
John Wheeler, a meteorologist with WDAY in Fargo, says that he heard reports of about eight inches in the Fergus Falls and Ponsford areas — and that April snowstorms in this region "aren't uncommon at all."
"They're more typical than you'd think," he said. "We almost always get some snow in April, and in well over half of the years, we get a measurable snow or two in April. Somewhere around a third of the time we actually get a storm where it's six inches or more of snow, and once every 10 or 20 years or so we'll get a snow that was much worse than this, where there's over a foot or more."
Wheeler added that snow in April is actually "more of an emotional shock" than a statistical one.