Warm winter storm brings record rainfall to Brainerd

With above average temperatures and a deluge of precipitation, Brainerd saw a record amount of rainfall Saturday Dec. 28, as a winter storm swept through the state causing treacherous driving conditions and hundreds of power outages.

Spectators steel themselves against rain and snow at the Brainerd ski invite Saturday, Dec. 28, at Northland Arboretum. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

A warm winter storm broke rainfall records in the lakes over the weekend.

Brainerd received 1.14 inches of rain Saturday, Dec. 28, according to the National Weather Service in Duluth, which shattered the previous record of 0.38 inches on Dec. 28 in 1958.

“That includes the rain that fell and then melted snowfall,” meteorologist Josh Sandstrom said, adding it’s more likely see that much rain as a total for the whole month of December.

Brainerd saw a high temperature of 36 degrees Saturday, compared to the average high temperature for Dec. 28 of 21 degrees.

The unseasonably warm weather didn’t keep the snow from coming, though, with about 3.4 inches falling in Brainerd between 9 a.m. Saturday and 7 a.m. Little Falls and Pine River saw the highest snow totals in the lakes area, with 7.5 and 6 inches, respectively.


Snow hammered parts of northwestern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota even harder, with Moorhead and Fargo, North Dakota, recording about 11.5 inches of snow each, and Frontier, North Dakota — about 6 miles southwest of Fargo — seeing nearly a foot and a half of snow.

The mix of rain and snow freezing on the roads made for treacherous travel conditions throughout the state.

The Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office reported several vehicles off the road and a few crashes over the weekend, but no injuries.

Among the incidents, Sgt. Jon Vukelich said Sunday afternoon, were a two-vehicle crash on the 500 block of South Sixth Street early Sunday morning in Brainerd, a rollover at Wise Road and Jacksonville Drive Saturday, and a property damage crash on County Highway 1 Saturday.

“The roads aren’t just icy, they’re slushy,” Vukelich said. “That slush just catches you and throws you around.”

As many as 400 Crow Wing Power and 600 Minnesota Power customers were out of power over the weekend. The majority of Crow Wing Power’s outages were in the northern coverage area, north of Pine River near Longville.

Char Kinzer, public relations manager at Crow Wing Power, said the wet, heavy snow caused branches and, in some cases, trees to fall on power lines, contributing to the outages, along with ice buildup on power lines. The situation would have been even worse, Kinzer said, had Crow Wing Power not spent what she called a tremendous amount of money on a right-of-way clearing program over the last few years.

“It would have been disastrous had we not done that,” she said.


As of Sunday afternoon, Kinzer said there were six crews out working on the last 16 outages, which affected about 160 Crow Wing Power customers. Minnesota Power announced on its Facebook page most of the outages were taken care of by about noon Sunday, with crews continuing to address various smaller outages.

As of 6 p.m. Sunday, 156 Crow Wing Power and 75 Minnesota Power customers were still out of power.

Around the region

The Minnesota State Patrol put out a no travel advisory for the Twin Cities about 9 a.m. Saturday, with posts on its Facebook page noting numerous crashes and spin outs across the metro and surrounding areas. Residents were advised not to drive unless absolutely necessary and if already on the roads and stuck in traffic, the state patrol told drivers to stay in their cars with their seat belts on.

The Metro Transit system in the Twin Cities suspended bus service Saturday morning, the service’s first weather-related shutdown since 2011, according to a Minnesota Public Radio story. In the same story, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport reported more than 100 delayed flights as of 3 p.m. Saturday. The airport was down to one operating runway earlier in the morning but had two of its four open as of 8 a.m.

The state patrol reported 357 crashes on state and federal highways between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. Saturday, along with 149 vehicle spin outs and 13 jackknifed semitractor-trailers. Of the crashes, 34 produced injuries and two were fatal — one near St. Cloud and one near Lino Lakes.

In the St. Cloud area, troopers responded to 42 crashes and 48 vehicles run off the road the same day. In the west-central region, troopers responded to 14 crashes, 29 vehicles run off the road and one jackknifed semitrailer.

A blizzard warning remained in effect through Sunday until 6 a.m Monday for the Red River Valley of northwestern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, with the National Weather Service predicting 1-3 inches of snow, winds gusting up to 45 mph and visibility of less than a quarter of a mile. Authorities issued a no travel advisory Saturday afternoon for Becker, Clay and parts of Otter Tail counties.

Duluth closed streets and parking lots near Lake Superior and the harbor for several hours Sunday morning due to flooding. Areas were also closed to foot traffic, as waves increasing in size were deemed unsafe, the city wrote in a Facebook post Sunday. All roads in Canal Park reopened later on in the morning.


In neighboring states, the North Dakota Department of Transportation closed Interstate 94 Sunday morning between Bismarck and Fargo and Interstate 29 from the South Dakota border to the Canadian border due to heavy snow and high winds causing reduced visibility, icy roads and life-threatening driving conditions, according to a Facebook post. At the same time, a no travel advisory was in effect for portions of southeast, south central and northeast North Dakota.

What’s coming in Brainerd

It’s not over yet. Brainerd lakes residents can expect anywhere from 2-4 inches of snow Monday, Sandstrom said. He predicted scattered mixed showers overnight Sunday and snow falling throughout the day Monday, with a few lingering snow showers overnight into Tuesday. By Tuesday morning, though, he said the storm system should have mostly moved out of the lakes area.

Temperatures were expected to drop below freezing around midnight Sunday and hover in the mid-20s throughout the day Monday.

“I think the roads will be drivable, but certainly they could be slippery,” Sandstrom said of road conditions Monday, advising drivers and pedestrians to be on the lookout for slick spots as precipitation changes from rain to snow and temperatures drop.

“Be careful in the slippery spots,” he added, “because there certainly will be slippery spots as we kind of take a nosedive right back into winter.”

Breaking records

Brainerd’s unusually high rainfall this December did not make the city an anomaly this year, as Minnesota saw the wettest year on record in 2019, according to the Department of Natural Resources State Climatology Office, bypassing 1977.

Precipitation totals exceeded 30 inches over all but 5-10% of the state, with totals exceeding 50 inches in parts of southern Minnesota. More than half the state was 12-20 inches wetter than normal.


THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Tommy Erickson builds a couple of snowmen during the Brainerd ski invite Saturday, Dec. 28, at the Northland Arboretum. Spectators and skiers had to contend with a mix of freezing rain and snow during the event. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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