Weather: Whipping winter winds create whiteouts

Howling winter winds Tuesday and Wednesday forced a highway closure, led to a late start for Brainerd Public Schools and caused power outages. Beginning at 6 a.m. Tuesday, a wind advisory for Crow Wing and Cass counties and much of the Northland ...

Two snowplows are staggered on the highway with snowy banks on either side.
A pair of Minnesota Department of Transportation plow trucks keep the roadway clear of ice and snow Wednesday on Highway 371 near Hole-in-the-Day Bay in Nisswa. A portion of the highway was closed by MnDOT early Wednesday morning because of dangerous conditions near Gull Lake. Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Howling winter winds Tuesday and Wednesday forced a highway closure, led to a late start for Brainerd Public Schools and caused power outages.

Beginning at 6 a.m. Tuesday, a wind advisory for Crow Wing and Cass counties and much of the Northland went into effect and was active through 4 p.m. Wednesday. The National Weather Service issued the advisory when it became clear the low-pressure system that brought severe weather to the state Monday created favorable conditions for strong winds.

A wind advisory is issued when sustained winds of 30 mph and/or gusts to 45 mph or greater are expected. Wind gusts ranging from 30-45 mph were recorded throughout the day Tuesday at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, with the highest recorded gust reaching 49 mph between 2-3 p.m. Tuesday. The winds sustained throughout the night with wind chill values bottoming out at 11 below zero just before 7 a.m. Wednesday.

The NWS noted those wind speeds can cause unsecured objects to blow around and create a hazard, including deck furniture. Editions of the Brainerd Dispatch were no exception, with more than 100 reports of papers blown away, including those in delivery tubes.

A stretch of Highway 371 north of Baxter along the eastern shoreline of Gull Lake was temporarily closed just before midnight Tuesday due to poor visibility from the blowing snow, the Minnesota Department of Transportation reported.


Traffic was detoured on County Highway 77, circumnavigating Gull Lake.

Jenny Seelen of the Baxter MnDOT office said the agency was called out to place detour signs and continued plowing efforts.

"The winds were blowing pretty hard and blew snow over the road and made it really hard to see," Seelen said. "I drove through there at 9 p.m. myself, and it was pretty whiteout."

Seelen said a message board was placed there Wednesday after the highway reopened, advising drivers to slow down to 10 mph.

"We're monitoring it 24-7 right now," she said.

The Brainerd school district issued a two-hour late start for classes Wednesday due to the blustery, cold conditions in the area.

The Highway 371 closure affected 15-20 bus routes, said Kevin McMenimen, transportation director for the district. A representative from Reichert Bus Service called McMenimen at about 5:20 a.m. Wednesday to notify him of the closure, which was due to blowing snow and treacherous conditions, he said.

"That's the dangerous spot that we know of," McMenimen said.


With the poor conditions, McMenimen and the company agreed it would be safer to pick students up in the daylight, he said. That way, bus drivers would be able to see any hazards like felled trees, he said. It would also give road crews time to lay down sand and salt to improve slick road conditions.

"We made a recommendation, between myself and the bus company, that we should go two hours late," McMenimen said.

McMenimen called Superintendent Laine Larson with his recommendation, he said, and she made the decision to delay the start of classes. The decision involves McMenimen's recommendation, he said, as well as advice from the bus company, law enforcement and state and local highway departments.

"We come up with a collective decision as far as what's best for the safety of the kids," McMenimen said.

Notification phone calls were made at about 5:40 a.m., McMenimen said. The district's communications director, Karla Sand, alerted local TV stations, updated the district's website and posted about the late start on social media, he said.

"Somebody's always unhappy with our decision," McMenimen said. "But whenever we feel that there's a safety element involved, and we need a little extra time to manage that, we will do a two-hour late start."

The district understands a two-hour late start can throw off morning routines and schedules, for both parents and students, McMenimen said. A late-start decision isn't made lightly, he said, but the district will always err on the side of safety.

"We also have to consider the number of students who are driving themselves to school as well," McMenimen said.


There were no morning early childhood classes, but KinderClub and before- and after-school care ran as usual.

Jory Danielson, maintenance supervisor for the Crow Wing County Highway Department, said blowing snow impacted the county highway system as well. It was not as bad as he expected, however, considering the conditions.

Danielson said the department handled a few downed trees during the day Tuesday, and as the snow moved in Tuesday night, the wind pushed it across roads near open areas.

"We had trucks go out right away this morning to try to hunt down some of the drifts," Danielson said.

Those areas most impacted were County Highway 3 near Ossipee, a couple spots on County Highway 16 between Jenkins and Crosslake, roads around Bay Lake and County Road 115 (Ojibwa Road) along Round and North Long lakes. Danielson said a truck was assigned to the Ojibwa Road area Wednesday to attend to recurring drifts.

Char Kinzer, public relations manager for Crow Wing Power, said the electrical cooperative experienced numerous outages Tuesday and Wednesday. The largest outages affected almost 1,000 people south of Motley in the Lake Shamineau and Lake Alexander area. That area experienced two separate outages-first on Tuesday afternoon and again 1 a.m. Wednesday. Kinzer said the outage occurred on a transmission line.

"Those are the great big, tall power lines that go through wide corridors," Kinzer said. "When those go out, that affects large numbers of people."

Smaller outages on distribution lines managed by Crow Wing Power occurred Tuesday and Wednesday as winds persisted.


Power also went out for northeast Brainerd residents for about a half-hour midday Tuesday, and Brainerd Public Utilities responded to three smaller outages Tuesday night. Scott Magnuson, BPU supervisor, said they made it through the night without additional outages.

"The leaves aren't on the trees yet, so that helped," Magnuson said. "The deciduous trees were not swaying as much as they would in the summer."

Although the wind advisory expired Wednesday afternoon, the NWS forecast called for blustery conditions to persist through tonight. Cold temperatures are also in the forecast and are expected to remain below freezing until early next week.

Temperatures could dip below zero tonight, with a low of 4 below expected.

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