It was a nuisance snowfall by all appearances, barely an inch in most places across the Twin Cities. But Thursday morning’s snow created big problems on the roads as treacherous conditions led to scores of crashes, including one fatality.
The State Patrol responded to more than 1,129 crashes statewide between 5 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and helped another 337 drivers whose vehicles had spun out or slid off icy roads.
One person was killed in a crash near Rochester and two were seriously injured in crashes near Duluth and Mankato, the patrol said, though it did not offer further details on those incidents Thursday night. In all, 90 crashes involved injuries.
Only 1.1 inches of light, fluffy snow had fallen by noon at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, just 1 inch at St. Cloud and 0.6 inches in Eau Claire, Wis. That, combined with temperatures hovering around zero, was enough to make for difficult driving.
Icy pavement heated by passing vehicles and exhaust quickly froze over, sending scores of vehicles into medians, retaining walls and each other. By midmorning, the state Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) travel information website showed more than 50 incidents snarling traffic, including a car vs. semitrailer truck crash on northbound Interstate 35W in Mounds View. A rollover on Interstate 494 in Eagan contributed to traffic backups in the southeast metro.
MnDOT dispatched trucks, but the temperatures in the single digits rendered ice-melting chemicals ineffective, said spokesman Kent Barnard.
“People think pre-treating the roads is the magic bullet, and it’s not,” he said. “Salt stops working around 5 degrees.”
The agency issued the usual advice: Keep the speeds down. MnDOT also reminded drivers to clear the snow off headlights and taillights.
Behind Thursday’s snow, another surge of bitterly cold air will persist into Monday, the National Weather Service said. International Falls set a record low temperature Wednesday when the mercury fell to -37 degrees just after 6 a.m. The actual air temperature in the metro will fall back below zero Friday night.
That prompted this reminder to bundle up. “Frostbite can set in as little as 15 minutes on any exposed skin with windchills of 25 below or colder,” the Weather Service warned.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768