Hello snow: Pretty to look at, snowstorm brings tricky travel conditions

The Brainerd lakes area might not have gotten its white Christmas, but for those seeking a hearty helping of snow, Mother Nature has more than delivered.

A resident on Memorywood Drive in Baxter uses a snowblower to clear his driveway Thursday, Dec. 27, during the snowstorm that struck Minnesota.
A resident on Memorywood Drive in Baxter uses a snowblower to clear his driveway Thursday, Dec. 27, during the snowstorm that struck Minnesota. The storm was expected to continue into Friday. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Video
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The Brainerd lakes area might not have gotten its white Christmas, but for those seeking a hearty helping of snow, Mother Nature has more than delivered.

A winter storm warning continued to be in effect until 9 a.m. Friday with an additional 2-4 inches of snow expected Friday morning.

Snow started falling Wednesday mid-evening, Dec. 26, and was expected to continue into Friday morning walloping central Minnesota with a wide path of 8 to 10 inches of thick, wet snow, depending on the location, according to the National Weather Service office in Duluth..

"It is starting out as that wet and heavy snowfall range because it's been so warm. All the snows today (Thursday) have been wet and heavy, but as it goes into tonight and into Friday when the temperatures start falling off, what's falling is going to be a lot lighter and fluffier," said Linda Engebretson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Duluth Thursday.

Local shovelers might rue the wet, clumpy and heavy snowfall that makes fine back-breaking material.


Engebretson added it's a short respite of slightly warmer conditions-by north-central Minnesota standards-before the state heads into next week, the new year, and plummeting temperatures in the negatives.

Unending storm

Light snow began falling before 8 p.m. Wednesday night. The snow came down more heavily before 11 p.m. and then continued steadily through the night and all day Thursday. By 5 a.m. Thursday, Baxter recorded 4 inches of snow and a little after 4 p.m., Lake Shore reported a snowfall of 11 inches.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation plows out of Baxter were working in shifts around the clock. MnDOT urged drivers to be cautious as the storm progressed, noting the continuous snowfall will combine with dropping temperatures for slick roads. Gusty winds were also expected to bring blowing snow along with frigid wind chills.

At about 3 p.m. Thursday, winds measured at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport began to pick up, reaching double digits. Between 6-7 p.m., winds remained steady at 16 mph from the north. It was during this time power outages began occurring in the area. A large outage was reported at 5:16 p.m. in Pillager, with 441 Minnesota Power customers affected. Crews continued to work on the outage throughout the evening, and the company estimated it would be restored by 8:30 p.m. At 7:15 p.m., 416 Crow Wing Power customers were in the dark due to a number of outages, including one in the area of Executive Acres Road affecting 90 customers and one near South Long Lake impacting 79.

The heavy snow came just hours after firefighters responded to a grass fire in Pierz as snowfall so far this December was limited to less than an inch on the ground.

Conditions from the storm varied across the state, providing a mixed bag as the Twin Cities reported rain and the western part of the state experienced blizzard conditions. Per an 8 a.m. Thursday report by the Minnesota State Patrol, troopers responded to 270 crashes, 270 vehicle spin-offs and eight jackknifed semitrailers. In these incidences, 20 people were reported injured, with no serious or fatal injuries.

The early report was not yet updated Thursday night, although road conditions reported by MnDOT showed travel remained risky throughout the day for much of the state. At 7:30 p.m., a swath of the state's roads stretching from the southwest to the northeast, including all those throughout the lakes area, were completely covered with snow and ice. MnDOT advised against travel on a significant section of roadways in the northeast corner of the state, including Highway 210 from Hassman to Cromwell and Highway 27 from south of McGrath to McGregor. Highway 65 north of McGregor all the way to Pengilly was also not advised for travel.


"If you must travel in the area, pack an emergency kit, make sure your cellphone battery is fully charged and advise someone of your travel plans," the state patrol reported on its Twitter account.

"Just be prepared for anything," said Jenny Seelen, MnDOT communications specialist in Baxter, of the winter storm conditions. Seelen urged motorists to actively turn their vehicle headlights on during the day as some sensors on daytime-running lamps read the whiteness of the snow and fail to turn on.

The heavy snowfall played havoc with scheduled sporting events and caused a number of facilities to close early. The Brainerd Public Library closed at 3 p.m. Thursday due to hazardous weather conditions as did the Westgate Mall, according to its Facebook page. Sertoma's Winter Wonderland announced the lighting display would be closed Thursday due to the weather.

Happy to see the snow

Area snowmobile clubs were itching to hit the trails after the Christmas week snowstorm granted riders enough sticky, compacted snow to form a strong base, said Dan Vogt, president of the Baxter Snowmobile Club. The club is the self-described oldest of its kind in the state of Minnesota, featuring 35-40 members and tending to roughly 80 miles of trails.

"We've waited a long time for this one. It's very welcomed. All the clubs and local businesses need the snowfall for the winter," Vogt told the Dispatch during a phone interview Thursday. "The moisture in this snow makes a really good snowmobile base. The snow doesn't blow out from the snowmobile from the trails. It packs in and freezes, makes a good base for riding. This was one of the best snows we could get."

Compared to last year-when temperatures were high enough for the snow to melt and vanish almost immediately, Vogt said-2018's winter wonderland looks here to stay and groomers should be out preparing the trails as soon as the snow stops. One concern, though, Vogt noted, is ice isn't thick enough on area water bodies-so, in short, both groomers and snowmobilers have to stay on the beaten path, or take the risk of falling through.



Crow Wing County snowplows got an early start on the roads at 3 a.m. Thursday.

County Engineer Tim Bray said he sent 14 plows out to clear the roads. Normally plows would wait until the snow is over the plow a second time, but because of the constant accumulations of snow, Bray said snowplows were out throughout the day. As of 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the plows made it through all county roads and highways more than once and were starting to come in for the night.

"We've gotten the majority of the heavy snow off of (roads), but they're white and they're still slippery, and we advise people to just take their time," Bray said Thursday afternoon.

Snowplow drivers were expected to head out again about 1 a.m. Friday.

"We're anticipating cold temperatures so we want to really get after them early and get the snow off there before it really drops into the deep freeze. That makes it really hard to get the ice and stuff off the roads," Bray said. "It's going to take a little bit more time until we get them cleaned up over the next couple days."

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