High winds cause blowing and drifting snow on Friday of last week, resulting in Highway 139 being nearly impassable inspite of the snowplow drivers’ best efforts.<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->JANICE HUFF/NEWS-RECORD
High winds cause blowing and drifting snow on Friday of last week, resulting in Highway 139 being nearly impassable inspite of the snowplow drivers’ best efforts.

With the flash of lightning 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 that had gone off the roads. They were rescued by the county plows the following morning.

While Harmony and Mabel received significantly lower amounts of snow, the two cities continue to have cold weather concerns.

Harmony's city administrator Jerome Illg reported the community has discovered another water main break in the southeast portion of town, contributed more to the cold temperatures and deepening frost line than to the recent snow fall and blizzard. However, as the forecast promises another stretch of below- and near-zero temperatures, the city's biggest winter weather concern continues to be the potential for frozen water mains and resident service lines.

Illg said the city has been fortunate that only one resident has reported a frozen service line at this time, but was hesitant to be totally optimistic because as temperatures warm, there continues to be a threat to the city infrastructure and resident water lines. "I've been told by those older and wiser than myself that even as the weather gets warmer, the frost line can go deeper, plus there is more stress on the water mains with ground shifts," he said.

Considering the amounts of snow piled along the city streets, Illg also added that a quick warming trend could create some flooding concerns, especially if storm drains are frozen or covered with snow and ice.

The city maintenance crews accepted the challenge of cleaning the streets following the blizzard last week, but the slushy, heavy snow was like "quick-drying cement" Illg said as it stuck to streets. Applying salt to the streets, with the cold temperatures the area is experiencing this week, does not make sense. He urged residents to "drive for the conditions" and to be cautious when approaching intersections as snow piles are beginning to restrict some visibility of oncoming traffic.

"The guys have been out and have pushed some of them back, but there is really little room with all the snow," Illg added.

Mabel's snow total of just over an inch was not as much of a concern last week as the amount of ice that coated everything and the rate at which it froze, explained city maintenance director Bob Mierau. "The roads were sure a mess," he added, with the slushy snow freezing in ridges and ruts throughout town.

Residents in the Mabel community have been experiencing some frozen service lines and Mierau noted that more residents are running one of their cold water faucets in a small, continuous stream as a preventative measure. Mierau explained that the water bills during this time will be based on past usage. He said the city will take a loss on the additional water pumping costs, but said it's well worth it in order to prevent broken or frozen water services.

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 Mabel-Canton 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 make up days at the end of the year.

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. Mabel-Canton girls' basketball team did not get a chance to play one of its final regular season games against Lanesboro and will start playoffs this week. Fillmore Central and Mabel-Canton boys teams played each other on Saturday night, after rescheduling Thursday's tournament game 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.