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Icy and dicey: Slippery roads cause school closures, fender benders

Cori Przybilla with Collins Brothers Towing winches a motorist out of the south ditch on the Wise Road Monday, Jan. 7, after central Minnesota was coated in a thick sheet of ice overnight. Temperatures rose during the day, melting ice and improving travel conditions. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch 1 / 2
A drop of water magnifies the tip of a pine needle Monday, Jan 7, after rising temperature began to melt the heavy layer of ice that coated the central Minnesota landscape overnight. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch 2 / 2

Brainerd lakes area roads and highways turned into skating rinks after midnight and continued into the Monday morning commute, making travel difficult.

The National Weather Service of Duluth reported snow quickly changed to freezing drizzle during the overnight Sunday to Monday. Northern Crow Wing and all of Cass and Aitkin counties were in a winter weather advisory until 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 7. As the morning progressed, the ice melted off the roads and made travel easier.

But before the melt, the ice forced schools to close for the day and some motorists off the road or into fender benders.

The Minnesota State Patrol reported from 11:45 p.m. Sunday to 10:44 a.m. Monday, troopers in the state patrol's Brainerd district responded to 10 vehicles off the road, seven property damage crashes and four personal injury crashes that caused minor injuries.

Sgt. Neil Dickenson, Minnesota State Patrol northeast region public information officer, said the incidents were scattered throughout the district.

The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office responded or assisted other agencies in 11 incidents when vehicles went off the road, into the ditch or were involved in a property damage crash in the county.

"We had similar conditions across the county where it was glare ice," Crow Wing County Sheriff-elect Scott Goddard said. "The first ones started at 4 a.m. and were spread across the county to almost the Aitkin County line to Ideal (Township) by Breezy Point. I remember a bad ice storm five years ago, but this storm will be one to put in the books. With the mist and light rain, it made roads impassable."

Goddard said the county sent out an alert for residents to use caution if driving because of the icy roads.

"Everyone has the go, go, go mentality, and we say if you don't have to leave home, don't," Goddard said. "We have to respond and we don't like to be on the side of the road because you see it year after year, of law enforcement getting hurt when on the side of the road. A lot of these crashes occur on the inside or outside corners. We had one on Beaver Dam and Wise Road, one of the county's busiest intersections."

Another thing motorists should think about, Goddard added, is if they do get in a crash they may be stuck for a while waiting for their vehicle to be towed. A tow company Monday morning informed people it would be an estimated hour and a half before they could respond.

Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch said Monday morning was a fairly uneventful day as motorists were driving with caution. Burch said there were a few vehicles off the road, but no major issues.

The Morrison County Sheriff's Office warned residents on its Facebook page of the slippery road conditions.

It stated: "Our office has responded to multiple vehicles in the ditch off Dove Road between Randall and Pillager. There have also been reports of semis running off Highway 10 as well. Use extreme caution if traveling and expect delays."

School districts canceling classes Monday were Brainerd, Aitkin, Crosby, Little Falls, McGregor, Pequot Lakes, Pierz, Pillager, Pine River, Staples, Verndale, Wadena, Walker, Isle, Crosslake Community School, Discovery Woods Montessori, Montessori of Brainerd, Isle and Nay Ah Shing School.

Central Lakes College in Brainerd and Staples ran two hours late.

There is a chance of flurries with a slight chance of snow showers before noon Tuesday in Brainerd, then a chance of flurries between noon and 3 p.m., the weather service reported. After an expected high temperature of 20 degrees, cold air is expected to move into the area with the temperatures falling to around 9 degrees by 5 p.m., a northwest wind of 20-25 mph and gusts as high as 35 mph. Tuesday night's low temperature is forecast at 4 degrees below zero, and strong winds are expected to continue.

The NWS reported temperature highs of 9 degrees Wednesday, 16 degrees Thursday and 24 degrees Friday in Brainerd. A slight chance of snow showers is again in the forecast on Friday.

Winter driving safety tips

The Minnesota State Patrol offers these tips for driving in the winter.

• Slow down and drive to the weather/road conditions. The posted speed limit is reduced when conditions become poor. Duty to drive with due care is the basic speed law.

• Always wear a seat belt as it could help save a life and avoid or reduce injuries in the event of a crash.

• Provide for plenty of travel time.

• Increase stopping distance between vehicles.

• Turn on headlights.

• Don't use cruise control on slippery roads.

• Don't travel if conditions are poor, if it can be avoided.

• Make sure all vehicle windows are clear from snow and ice.

• Have four winter-type tires with good tread depth.

• Eliminate distractions while driving.

• Buckle up, and make sure child restraints are secured tightly. It is recommended to use bulky clothes and blankets on top of the child restraint harness, not beneath, to ensure harness restraints fit properly.

• Use extra precautions when driving around snowplows by keeping at least five car-lengths behind plows.

• If skidding, remain calm, ease foot off the gas, and drivers should turn the steering wheel in the direction they want the front of the vehicle to go.

• If vehicle has an anti-lock braking system, apply steady firm pressure to the brake pedal. Never pump ABS brakes.

• Clear snow and ice from vehicle windows, hood, headlights, brake lights and directional signals.

• Equip vehicles with a scraper/brush, small shovel, jumper cables, tow chain and a bag of sand or cat litter for tire traction. Blankets, heavy boots, warm clothing and flashlights are also important, as are storing high-energy foods such as chocolate or energy bars.

• Be sure cellphones are charged for long trips, and inform family of destination plans and schedule.

• If stranded, stay in the vehicle.

• Parents of teen drivers should make sure new motorists experience snow and ice driving in a safe environment, such as an empty parking lot.

• Check www.511mn.org or call 511, for updated road conditions.

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