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Snowstorm unloads on central Minnesota

Snow began falling Sunday and came down in heavy amounts overnight leading into Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, leaving a foot to 15 inches of snow across a swath of central Minnesota, including the Brainerd lakes region.

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A stranded car in the middle of F Street in Northeast Brainerd remains immobile while snow shovelers stop to talk Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, after 13 to 18 inches of snow fell overnight in the Brainerd area. City, county and state plows were out Monday morning but the roads and streets remain very slippery. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

With heavy snowfall rates overnight, central Minnesotans woke up to find deep snow on their doorsteps, in their driveways and on area streets.

The silver lining came from relatively warm temperatures for snow removal with the warmest temperatures of the day coming just before 10 a.m. at 28 degrees. By 4 p.m. the temperature already plunged to 10 degrees as skies cleared.

The snowstorm dropped a foot of snow and more across central Minnesota, with the Brainerd lakes area recording the heaviest snowfall amounts in the state with up to 18 inches measured by St. Mathias Monday morning. Reports of 12-15 inches of snow were common across central Minnesota and into Wisconsin.

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In waist deep snow, Vickie Bahr shovels her sidewalk in northeast Brainerd Monday, Dec. 27, 2021. The winter storm included freezing rain and 13-18 inches of fresh snow. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

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The snowfall amounts added up to more than initially expected with the snow ratios higher because there was less water content associated with the snow, creating the fluffier variety, the National Weather Service reported. And the snow amounts were higher in a broader area and farther south than first anticipated with this storm, called a Colorado low when looking at its origins.

“It came down hard and heavy for several hours last night, especially with some pretty impressive snowfall rates … much greater than an inch per hour in a lot of places for at least a few hours there,” said Josh Sandstrom, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Duluth.

Sandstrom said temperatures were also in the range where snowstorms produce higher snowfall totals — about 10 degrees below freezing or so. The heavy wet snow typically falls when temperatures are close to freezing.

“Then just the general intensity of this system was a little bit stronger than most systems that we see that pass through here,” Sandstrom said, noting the typical Alberta clipper systems that bring about 2-4 inches of snow. ”It’s not too often that we get the foot of snow or higher amounts. So, obviously it’s Minnesota and we see that on occasion, but it doesn’t happen super often.”

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Covered in fresh snow, Jeff Nelson uses a snowblower to clear a path to his house in northeast Brainerd Monday, Dec. 27, 2021. Snow depth totals range from 13 to 18 inches in the Brainerd area. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

And expect more snow Tuesday morning with another 2-4 inches forecast. The heaviest snowfall is expected in the afternoon and should taper off after 6 p.m.

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A winter storm warning remained in effect until 6 p.m. Monday in Cass, Crow Wing and Aitkin counties and northeast Minnesota with wind gusts as high as 35 mph. After the heaviest bands of snow passed by Monday morning, additional snow continued to fall, coming down lightly and as graupel — those soft small pellets of snow formed within super-cooled water droplets freeze onto a snow crystal. Snowfall rates of 1-3 inches per hour were noted with the storm.


"It came down hard and heavy for several hours last night, especially with some pretty impressive snowfall rates … much greater than an inch per hour in a lot of places for at least a few hours there."

— Josh Sandstrom, National Weather Service meteorologist


While snowfall amounts are not officially recorded for the Brainerd area with the weather service, this storm looks as though it would have been a record-breaker with 8.6 inches of snow set in 2018 as the record holder for the most recorded on Dec. 27. Farther east, parts of the state were also dealing with freezing rain on top of earlier snowfall Monday.

The snow, while abundant Monday morning, was light and fluffy to shovel but that also meant it was easy for the wind to turn into whiteout conditions. The strong wind overnight and during the day Monday created ripples of drifts on rooftops and difficult driving conditions. The storm included a blizzard warning along the North Shore Monday afternoon.

Road and trail impacts

Locally, the police scanner was regularly punctuated by reports of vehicles in the ditch, including a car on its roof among other reports across the area with some requiring firefighters to assist in extricating people from their autos.

On area streets, the plow ridges and snowfall proved to be too much for some cars as snow became packed in the undercarriage. Many hands helped as groups of people worked to get stuck vehicles moving.

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Zach Reynolds, right, helps Silas Wright push Jennifer Wright's car Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in north Brainerd. Cars became stranded after 13-18 inches of snow fell in the Brainerd area. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The Brainerd Police Department responded to its first hazard in the road call at 10:26 p.m. Sunday, with several to follow along with motorist assists, abandoned vehicle reports and parking complaints in response to the city’s declared snow emergency through Monday morning. The Minnesota State Patrol reported in a social media update that 8-10:30 a.m. Monday statewide there were 40 crashes — four with non-life-threatening injuries and zero fatalities — plus 44 vehicles that ran off the road requiring assistance and two jackknifed semitrailers.


"It’s not too often that we get the foot of snow or higher amounts. So, obviously it’s Minnesota and we see that on occasion, but it doesn’t happen super often."

— Josh Sandstrom, National Weather Service meteorologist


On Tuesday, parking in Brainerd is banned beginning at 6 a.m. on all snow emergency routes and all east-west streets or streets that generally run east-west where cars were plowed around on Monday.

Crow Wing County snowplow drivers hit the highways beginning at 3 a.m. Monday, facing whiteout conditions in the early morning hours. Jory Danielson, highway maintenance supervisor, said they were surprised to see a foot of snow already on the ground in the Brainerd area well before sunrise.

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In near whiteout conditions, a Crow Wing County plow truck clears snow on the Wise Road Monday, Dec. 27, 2021. Later in the morning, winds shifted to the northwest with a speed of 35 mph. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

A fleet of 16 trucks spent more than 14 hours plowing, first to open up impassable roads and then to continue clearing as snow kept falling into the afternoon.

Danielson said the cold temperatures and drifting snow meant melting materials were not effective on the roadways Monday, but overall, he was pleased with the state of the county highway system at the end of the workday. He said he hoped cold temperatures and strong winds would combine to “freeze dry” the roadways.

“The group of plow drivers we have are exceptional, and they did an exceptional job,” he said.

After returning home for some much-needed sleep, drivers were expected to clean up drifting areas again Tuesday morning before preparing for another round of snow expected later in the day.

Snowshoers were welcomed by the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew Monday to assist in compacting snow and grooming trails in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, where 16 inches or more fell.

“Our tremendous crew of volunteer snow groomers have been out and the early reports are that grooming is going to take a while to get things back to rideable,” a Facebook post stated. “ … Please don’t try to ride these trails. They are way too soft at this point and need a lot of work.”

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Walking along an empty snow-clogged street in northeast Brainerd, a pedestrian has the street to himself Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, after a winter storm dumped snow in the Brainerd area overnight Sunday and into Monday afternoon. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch


"The group of plow drivers we have are exceptional, and they did an exceptional job."

— Jory Danielson, Crow Wing County highway maintenance supervisor


Closures

A number of businesses closed for the day or closed early Monday. Among those reporting closures on social media were Brainerd businesses The Olde Open Window, The Skillet restaurant, the Crow Wing Food Co-op and Coco Moon coffee shop. The Center in Brainerd, Rural MN Concentrated Employment Program and Career Force, the Brainerd Public Library and multiple health care facilities were closed as well.

Essentia Health closed a number of its area clinics because of the hazardous travel conditions, including those in Baxter, Brainerd, Crosslake, Emily, Pequot Lakes, Pillager, Pine River, Hackensack and Walker. Urgent care at the Baxter clinic opened at 1 p.m. Monday and remained open until 8 p.m., while the hospital and virtual visits remained available.

Riverwood Healthcare Center’s Garrison clinic closed Monday, while its Aitkin and McGregor clinics remained open. Tri-County Health Care closed its Wadena clinic at 3 p.m. with ReadyCare remaining open until 5 p.m. The Cornerstone coffee shop and employee cafeteria at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby closed Monday because staff members were unable to get to work and the outpatient pharmacy closed an hour early. Lakewood Health System in Staples reported no impacts to its hours of operation because of the weather.

The Brainerd School District closed Fun & Friends child care Monday, with care expected to resume Tuesday. Practices and other activities in school facilities were canceled across the region as well, but winter break from classes limited school impacts of the storm.

Snow totals

Snow totals recorded with the National Weather Service Monday morning about 7-8:30 a.m. as snow continued to fall, likely adding 1-3 inches to the totals here with those coming from locations near or in the cities listed.

  • 18 inches — St. Mathias Township

  • 16 inches — Riverton

  • 16 inches — Baxter

  • 15 inches — Motley

  • 14.3 inches — Pine River

  • 14 inches — Pillager

  • 14 inches — Pequot Lakes

  • 14 inches — East Gull Lake

  • 14 inches — Merrifield

  • 13.5 inches — Breezy Point

  • 13 inches — Nisswa

  • 13 inches — Crosby

  • 13 inches — Camp Ripley

  • 12 inches — Deerwood

  • 11 inches — Aitkin

  • 10 inches — LIttle Falls

Source: National Weather Service.

A cold start to 2022

An anticipated high of 18 degrees Tuesday may be the last “warm” day of the year with highs expected in the single digits and even subzero highs as 2021 draws to a close and 2022 arrives on a cold note.

The high temperature on New Year’s Day may top out at 1 below. The first night of the new year is expected to drop to 20 below, which may be the heart of the cold spell but also a harbinger of things to come. After what could be a hint of a brief warmup after New Year’s Day, the longer range forecast indicates more cold air.

It might be time to rack up the January binge-watching movie list for what is typically the coldest month of the year.

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A lone walker shares Mill Avenue with motorists Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, after 13-18 inches of fresh snow fell overnight. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Snow clearing reminders

In a news release, CenterPoint Energy reminded homeowners and businesses to use care when clearing snow or ice near natural gas meters, a task necessary to help prevent a leak or service interruption.

“Although designed to withstand winter weather, your outdoor meter has a vent that regulates gas pressure and it must not be blocked by snow or ice to work properly,” the release stated. “When clearing snow away, it is also important to protect your meter from being damaged. In recent winters, CenterPoint Energy has responded to incidents with snowplows and snowblowers hitting meters and causing gas leaks.”

RENEE RICHARDSON, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.
CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Related Topics: MINNESOTA
Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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