Blizzard impacts wide scope of
activities throughout Fillmore County
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 2:20 AM
With the flash of lightening and clap of thunder, winter, not spring, continued to make its presence known as blizzard conditions swept into the area on Thursday, Feb. 20. While western parts of Fillmore County saw the highest overall snow accumulation, 10.5 inches in Spring Valley, every part of the county dealt with conditions caused by high winds and packed snow.
The wet, heavy snow seemed to fall from the sky in large clumps and impacted roadways immediately. State, county and city crews began what would promise to be a marathon of activity.
Fillmore County Maintenance Supervisor Brent Kohn reported he sent out his first truck at noon that Thursday and called them in at 6:30 that evening. It had become obvious at that point that all county roads would be impassable until the next day.
The first of 15 county plows went out at 4 a.m. Friday and still had roads to clear at noon. They worked again until standard curfew of 6:30 p.m., having the worst behind them. Still, crews had to run the plows from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. the next day. Kohn's crew included 18 workers. By the end of 32 hours of plowing in three days, "They were sick of it," Kohn laughed, adding they also appreciated the 3 a.m. wake-up call he sent out.
Kohn noted the three days were the longest ones of the year for his crew, which has already spent more time plowing this year than all of last year. Forty-seven snow events will do that.
Though the snow has been piling up, Kohn said they have been using less salt and sand so far. "You don't treat roads when there are high winds and the material doesn't work when it is too cold," he explained.
Before becoming more powdery with dropping temperatures, the initially wet snow packed very easily on roads, creating ice sheets for traveling on. According to the Minnesota State Patrol for Southern Minnesota, there were 284 vehicles off the roadway, 49 crashes and two injuries in the Rochester area.
The Fillmore County Sheriff's Office was still populating numbers for the county, but Sheriff Daryl Jensen said it appeared numbers were low for accidents.
"We had a pretty accurate warning from the weather services, so everyone was driving slow," he said.
Jensen also thanked the state and county plow drivers for taking care of the roads as best they could. Jensen did report that several people had spent Thursday night stranded in cars which had gone off the roads. They were rescued by the county plows the following morning.
Deputies for the Preston Police Department had zero accidents to respond to, but found themselves getting stuck in the streets as they continued their patrols throughout Preston and Lanesboro.
City crews in Preston responded to the storm as it headed through and had one plow truck break down as they cleared off the 2.9 inches of snow which drifted to five feet in some places.
Public Works Director Jim Bakken also said they did not have to use much salt and sand and that their overall supply should be sufficient for the remainder of the season.
Of biggest concern to the city of Preston is related to the continuing winter are the water service problems cropping up due to the deep frost. Bakken reported about six residences are dealing with waterline issues. "We haven't had any service lines freeze up like we had this year," he said.
He explained that most of the lines are six feet under, which means any freezing issues in those pipes indicates a deeper than normal frost.
City Administrator Joe Hoffman said staff would be discussing lowering water services in those areas seeing frost problems once the Twenty-14 project gets underway.
Bakken said it did provide some relief to know that any problems the city is having in utilities or roads breaking up from the thaw will be addressed holistically with the upcoming project. "It still remains a problem that needs to be solved now, but it does make us feel a little better," he added.
The city of Lanesboro saw the addition of one more residence to their list of 20 which are experiencing frozen pipes. The city purchased hoses for those households and are using them to direct water from neighboring houses toward those in need.
City Administrator David Todd said city staff is still determining the source of the problem and are still encouraging households to leave their cold water running to a pencil-sized flow. Monthly water bills will be adjusted by a formula using the average monthly usage last year subtracted from the amount used this year.
"We're crossing our fingers that spring comes early," said Todd. "When it does come, this issue is going to dissipate."
Todd thanked staff responsible for clearing last week's snowfall, which amounted to about 4.5 inches.
Hoping to not have to deal with frozen pipes is John Hanson, Fountain's maintenance worker, who spent 15 hours cleaning up the city on Friday. He reported the city received around six inches of snow, which has been pushed into piles throughout town.
Hanson also said he hasn't used much salt and sand mix yet because of the high winds and cold temperatures.
Some residents throughout the region had to deal with power-outages. Tri-County Electric reported outages beginning around 2:30 p.m. last Thursday and continuing throughout the night until the next morning. Approximately 1,269 households were affected by 33 outages. By 11:20 a.m. on Friday, all power had been restored. Issues with power lines galloping and being weighed down with snow and ice contributed to a majority of the outages.
The snowstorm also impacted area schools. Fillmore Central and Lanesboro both had Thursday and Friday school and extra-curricular activities cancelled. Both school boards will be evaluating whether or not their school will need to makeup days at the end of the year.
Lanesboro has missed six days to snow days and Superintendant Jeff Boggs said, "We are getting to a point where we will start conversation about it."
Fillmore Central Dean of Students Chris Mensink said the five days their students missed will force them to make up at least four of those days. The school has set into their calendar a maximum of six makeup days in June. The school board will approve makeup days at its February meeting.
The cancellations also caused conflicts for basketball games and wrestling tournaments. Lanesboro girls' basketball team did not get a chance to play its final regular season game against Mabel-Canton and will start playoffs this week. Both Fillmore Central and Lanesboro boys teams played on Saturday night, after rescheduling Thursday's tournament games twice. Individual wrestlers competing in the section tournament in Rochester went up one day early in anticipation of the storm and stayed overnight before the start of the tournament on Friday.
The full impact of the continued cold and snowy weather will be seen once spring arrives, but no one is sure when that will be.