Freezing rain sends buses, vehicles, semis off roads; More rain, snow in forecast
Freezing rain in January in Minnesota is typically a rare sight. But that's exactly what happened during the Friday morning commute in the Brainerd lakes area, with the most slippery roads to the north of Brainerd. The icy roads caused three scho...
Freezing rain in January in Minnesota is typically a rare sight.
But that's exactly what happened during the Friday morning commute in the Brainerd lakes area, with the most slippery roads to the north of Brainerd. The icy roads caused three school buses-from Brainerd, Pequot Lakes and Crosby-to slide off the road and a semitrailer to also slide blocking a Crow Wing County road in Nisswa.
The Minnesota State Patrol responded to 14 property damage crashes, which included five rollovers, one crash with injuries and 17 vehicles that were off the roads in the Brainerd District from 1 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday, but the bulk of the crashes occurred between 6-9 a.m.
The Brainerd lakes area, including the cities of Brainerd, Pine River, Walker and Aitkin, were in a freezing rain advisory through noon Friday by the National Weather Service in Duluth and authorities were advising no travel in Crow Wing and Cass counties, as the roads "are very slippery," the NWS stated.
Bryan Howell with the National Weather Service in Duluth said the freezing rain was not expected early Friday morning, but as the air temperatures were slightly above freezing and the pavement/ground temperatures were still below freezing, the rain fall turned to ice once it hit the pavement. Howell said the NWS does not anticipate sending another freezing rain advisory for the weekend in the lakes area.
"We have a better chance of rain or snow," Howell said of the overnight on Friday and Saturday. "We do not see any indicators of a big potential for freezing rain this weekend."
Howell said the storm itself is "pretty expansive" and is moving slow. That is why "it will be here all weekend," he said. The storm came from the southern plains, covering Kansas, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota and moving northeast.
"We won't get much rain," Howell said. "It will make a light reduction to the snow compact."
The forecast this weekend calls for a high temperature of 37-38 in Brainerd, with an 80 percent chance of rain Saturday and a 40 percent chance on Sunday. The temperature lows at night will linger between 29-31 over the weekend.
The Crow Wing County Highway Department closely watched the snow/freezing rain mix early Friday morning to prepare if they needed to go out and salt the roads. County Highway Maintenance Supervisor Jory Danielson said crews were out on the 550 miles of county roads Thursday clearing the roads as temperatures were in the upper 30s, lower 40s, easily melting the snow/ice.
Danielson said the county didn't want to salt the roads early Friday morning until they knew for sure the snow/rain would turn into freezing rain. If the county salted the roads and it would have just rained, the rain would just wash the salt off the road. Once the rain began to freeze on the pavement, 16 trucks hit the county roads and another five trucks in the First Assessment District, also known as the Unorganized Territory.
Danielson said around 6:30 a.m. is when the roads began to get "very slippery."
People trying to get to work and the children trying to get to school on slick roads resulted several vehicles sliding into ditches in Crow Wing County.
Lt. Joe Meyer of the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office said the first personal injury crash was reported at 6:22 a.m. Friday on County Highway 3 and Morningside Drive in Merrifield. There were two vehicles involved and one of the persons involved was trapped, Meyer said. Mission Fire assisted on scene to help the subject.
The sheriff's office was then called to a crash involving a Brainerd Public Schools bus, owned by Reichert Bus Service and with students on board, that slid off County Highway 13 in Nisswa by Sportland Corners, of Highway 371. Meyer said there were no injuries and the students were transported to Nisswa Elementary School and to the Brainerd schools.
Meyer said the bus blocked the county road and the road had to be closed down for a time. Deputies and emergency personnel worked on scene and then cleared the scene, to only be called back to the same area to another crash, having to close the road once again. Meyer said the road was blocked for over an hour.
The second property damage crash involved a semitrailer that also slid off County Highway 13. Meyer said both the school bus and the semitrailer slid after going around a curve.
The sheriff's office also traveled across Highway 371 from Sportland Corners to County Highway 77 in NIsswa. Meyer said there were about five vehicles that went in the ditch near Grand View Lodge.
The Nisswa Police Department also responded to the property damage crashes.
The sheriff's office also responded to a Pequot Lakes and Crosby school bus that both slid off the road. No injuries were reported.
Meyer said the county had a no travel advisory alert out to motorists because of the dangerous, slippery roads.
"If you don't have to travel, don't," Meyer said when the road conditions are not good. "But if you have to travel, drive slow and be aware of the conditions. Drive defensively, not aggressively."
Sgt. Neil Dickenson of the Minnesota State Patrol agreed.
"I know I always say this, but slow down," Dickenson said. "It's been one of those winters where we have had a lot of crashes, vehicles off the road and fatalities have gone up. We've had so much snow and ice."
Fog played a role in driving conditions in the lakes area and Dickenson advised motorists to turn on their lights, slow down and give themselves enough time to go from Point A to Point B.
With rain and snow in the forecast this weekend, Danielson said county plow crews will be on call to come in if the roads get slick again.
Snowplows travel much slower than the posted speeds because it is most effective for clearing roads. The driver's field of vision is severely restricted behind the truck, and the driver must rely on mirrors to see to the rear and side of the truck.
• Be patient, and remember snowplows are working to improve road conditions for your trip.
• Stay back at least 10 car lengths between your vehicle and a plow.
• Stay alert for snowplows that turn or exit frequently and often with little warning. They also may travel over centerlines or partially in traffic to further improve road conditions.
• Slow down to a safe speed for current conditions. Snowplows typically move at slower speeds.
Be patient with the snowplows and drive according to road conditions. Heavy traffic congestion affects snowplowing operations, so if you're stuck in traffic, so are the snowplows.
(Source: Minnesota Department of Transportation)