Storm arrives; sleet and snow to continue

Published 6:59 am Thursday, December 24, 2009

A white Christmas — one perhaps more hairy than merry — is officially on its way.

A winter storm touched down in Austin shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday and is predicted to stay through Christmas evening, bringing poor holiday travel conditions with it.

Throughout Wednesday night and into early Thursday, the storm brought periods of snow and sleet, with breaks mixed in from time to time.

Tom Stangeland, hydro-meteorological technician for (NWS), said the storm is coming in patches, with a mixture of sleet and snow expected again for Christmas Eve.

“There may be some breaks, but I don’t think anyone can time them right now,” he said Wednesday night.

The wintry mix should transition to snow in Austin by Christmas Day, but the storm may stick around beyond that.

“On Saturday, the storm hasn’t left us,” Stangeland said. “It’s light snow … but it’s still not going to be a great day.”

Stangeland said snow accumulations could reach 15 inches, depending on how much rain there is mixed in, with the biggest snowfall in western Minnesota.

“The farther west into Minnesota, the colder it goes and the more snow will fall,” he said.

The (NWS) reported two inches of new snow for Austin overnight, along with 1/16th of an inch of ice in Grand Meadow.

And it looks like Mother Nature has more coal to dump in southern Minnesota’s stocking.

“We still have a ways to go yet,” said Jessica Brooks, (NWS) meteorologist. “It’s far from over.”

Capt. Matt Langar of the Minnesota State Patrol said there were minor accidents yesterday and vehicles off the road in southern Minnesota, but nothing unusual for a winter storm.

“We’ll see what happens tonight when the next round comes,” he said.

By late Wednesday afternoon, Austin’s Hy-Vee seemed packed with customers, as if it was a retail store on Black Friday.

“For Christmas week, it’s hard to really tell … but we’re probably a little more busy,” said Kelly Wiese, Hy-Vee’s manager of store operations, Wednesday afternoon. “Typically our busiest day is Christmas Eve, so we probably had an increase today, and we’ll probably have a slight decrease tomorrow.”

Freezing rain and sleet first hit northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin Wednesday morning, causing roads there to be icy and dangerous, according to (NWS) reports.

A (NWS) Winter Storm Warning is in effect through 6 p.m. on Dec. 25 in Mower, Wabasha, Dodge, Olmsted, Winona, Fillmore and Houston counties.

City engineer Jon Erichson said plows are prepared to work the storm, and that there is no personnel problem because of the holiday.

“Of course it might disrupt a lot of people, but it’s a public safety issue, and we will be out there plowing as per usual,” he said.

Snow emergencies will also operate as usual, although as of Thursday morning, one was not in effect. Erichson said if one is declared — which is usually the case with more than several inches of snow — the media will be contacted and the word will get out.

City snow emergency rules are posted in the sidebar.

Midtown Towing, located at 1402 10 Drive SE, handles the bulk of towing for the city. Owner Steve Sollie said plenty of drivers and eight trucks are ready if need be over the holiday.

“My guys have actually volunteered to work,” he said.

Cars will be towed to Midtown, and retrieving a vehicle will cost between $85 and $150, Sollie said.

Sollie said most of Midtown’s winter storm business comes from pulling cars out of ditches.

Already on Tuesday, after only a few inches of snow accumulated the night before, Sollie said his trucks answered a higher-than-usual number of calls. He thought glazed highways and heavy holiday traffic played a roll.

As for the coming storm, Sollie said Midtown is prepared, but does not know what to expect.

“You just never know,” he said. “Maybe people will listen and stay home. But, most likely, people are going to want to drive to grandmas.”

State agencies urge motorists to drive safely

Two Minnesota state agencies are encouraging drivers to be safe on the road as a winter storm approaches during holiday travel season.

The Minnesota Departments of Public Safety and Transportation say holiday travelers should consider leaving early to avoid traveling in severe weather conditions. The Department of Transportation expects to have hundreds of snowplows on the roads in the coming days, and is asking motorists to take extra care when driving near them and leaving at least five car-lengths between vehicles and the plows.

Drivers can access state road condition information by calling 511 or visiting http://www.511mn.org.

Snow Emergency Rules

Duration: 72 hours unless extended

Calendar Parking:

Odd days, park on odd side

Even days, park on even side

Be on the right side daily at 8 a.m.

Downtown parking is prohibited from 1 to 8 a.m.

The National Weather Service can be located on line at:

www.crh.noaa.gov/arx/

-David Richards contributed to this report