Winter keeps hangin' on
Powerful blizzard hits region as February winds down
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 5:35 AM
A fierce winter storm which tracked from Kansas to northern Wisconsin delivered a glancing blow to Houston County last Thursday/Friday. Sleet and freezing rain gave way to heavy snows, putting motorists at risk. But as nasty as conditions became, it could have been worse.
"Several accidents were reported near Hokah," Houston County engineer Brian Pogodzinski said on Friday. "Mainly rain, sleet, and slush hit La Crescent and Brownsville, and conditions in Caledonia were basically similar. But in Houston and Spring Grove there was really heavy snow for a while."
To the west and north, there were plenty of road closures, including parts of State Highway 43 in Fillmore County. State Highway 76 north of Caledonia was also shut down briefly, Pogodzinski said. That was about it for Houston County, though.
Even before the storm had passed, the Minnesota Department of Transportation in Rochester reported 54 vehicles off the roadway, 17 property damage crashes including four rollovers, and 2 injury crashes.
Wind gusts of 35 to 50 mph were common from Thursday night through Friday morning. Peak winds reached 50-55 mph. Many schools closed, as blizzard conditions enveloped northeastern Iowa and southeastern Minnesota. Power outages affected approximately 5,000 customers.
"We actually had to park our trucks for a while because they couldn't see anything," Pogodzinski stated, adding that northern and western Houston County was "right on the line" as far as heavier snowfall totals.
County snowplow drivers have worked overtime this winter, especially during January and February, he reported. Salt and sand stockpiles were full last fall, and that's fortunate.
"I would say that we used quite a bit of sand and salt (during this storm)," Pogodzinski said. "This winter is definitely going to use up our allotment of salt.... It may be difficult to fully replenish the pile this year, based on our 2014 budget."
Spring Grove reported 2.8 inches of snow, while Caledonia added a respectable on 2.5 inches. But three miles west/southwest of La Crescent, less than 2 inches fell. Two National Weather Service (NWS) stations near Spring Valley got a lot more of the white stuff, totaling 10.5 and 10.7 inches, respectively. Rochester reports ranged from 8 to nearly 10 inches. Further north along the storm track, 12 inches fell in Medford, Wisconsin.
"You were right on the very edge of it," NWS meteorologist John Wetenkamp told the Herald on Friday. "Areas just to the west of you saw significant snowfall, plus a lot of blowing and drifting snow as well as ice-covered roads."
"It's still a mess out there."
Don't look for crocuses in the yard just yet. Wetenkamp said that the mild air mass that ushered in last week's storm isn't the first sign of spring.
"Unfortunately, this was just a brief taste of springtime," he noted. "We're going to return to cold temperatures next week, with some bitterly cold wind chills. It looks like we're going back into the pattern that we saw before this system arrived."
"Over the next couple of weeks, it looks like we're going to continue to have below normal temperatures. We'll most likely be right back into that northwest flow pattern that we've had."
"Looking way out, there's some hope. We're going to have to turn the corner at some point. We'll have to see when this pattern shifts. What we have is a persistent ridging of high pressure in the far western U.S. That's allowing this cold air to filter in from Canada. When that pattern breaks, we will have warming return to the area. We really just saw a brief break in that with the last system that came through."