'It's a blizzard, nothing else to say, it's Minnesota': Pre-Christmas storm wreaks havoc on highways, causes headaches for drivers and plow crews

Rich Reeve
Updated: December 23, 2020 10:16 PM
Created: December 23, 2020 08:31 PM

A pre-Christmas storm hammered Minnesota on Wednesday, dumping rain first, then sleet, then snow.

"It's a blizzard," declared Zack Fairbanks, of Lino Lakes. "Nothing else to say, it's Minnesota."

By Wednesday afternoon, temperatures were plummeting, and that tell-tale glaze was showing up on bridges and overpasses.

Asked how the roads are, Vivian Timmons of White Bear Township said, "They're pretty icy. It was pretty bad going 30 miles per hour on the freeway."

There were multiple pileups and slide-offs in the metro.

On Interstate 35E southbound, near Lino Lakes, a chain-reaction crash left a tangle of crushed cars and caused a major backup.

"People forget how to drive as soon as it starts snowing," said Ryan Fields, who lives in White Bear Township. "Need to slow down and pay attention."

Roadside cameras captured images of a 12-car pileup in Maplewood on Highway 36, near White Bear Avenue.

But there were slippery conditions well outside the metro area.

The Minnesota State Patrol tweeted out a photo of a pickup flipped over in Clearwater.

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"Icy when I left the mall, so that was fun getting out of that," Timmons said. "I tried to go on the backroads so I wouldn't hit anything."

The quickly changing precipitation caused wet roads earlier in the day, setting the stage for difficult driving conditions, the Minnesota Department of Transportation said.

"We're really trying not to have wet roads at any point because that is the glue that the snow sticks to," Anne Meyer, a MnDOT spokesperson, explained. "Our materials just don't work as well when temperatures are 15 degrees or below. So it's just going to take time for our salt, our brine, all of that, to be active."

Still, some are welcoming the snow as a celebration of the season.

"I could go for more," Fields said. "I mean, I'm fine with it."

Asked if he's looking forward to a white Christmas, he added, "Oh for sure."

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But first, there are many more challenges on the roads.

MnDOT said it has 800 plows on Minnesota highways, staffed by 1,800 operators.

Meyer said they work 24/7, on 12-hour shifts.

But the falling temperatures mean more challenges on the roads.

That includes whiteouts from blowing and drifting snow, making visibility even more dangerous, especially at night.

"First snow, first bad snow," Timmons said, shaking her head.

"So a return to driving school?" she was asked.

"Yes, yes," she nodded. "Although I do feel most people do slow down for the most part, are careful at first."


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