Meteorologists warned of winter storm, most listened

Published 8:09 am Wednesday, March 7, 2018

By Matt Sepic

MPR News/90.1 FM

A severe winter storm brought strong winds and heavy snow to much of Minnesota on Monday. Rain on roads and sidewalks turned to ice as temperatures dipped below freezing, making driving conditions dangerous. But many commuters heeded the warnings and stayed home or left work ahead of the storm.

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Most school districts made the decision to cancel classes well before the bad weather hit. The Minneapolis Public Schools notified students around 8:30 p.m. Sunday. In neighboring St. Louis Park, the robocalls and emails came just after 9 p.m. — more than 18 hours before snow began falling in the west Twin Cities metro.

That meant for much of the day, kids and their parents were not at the mercy of snowy, unplowed roads. Patty McGrath, who manages Edinborough Park — the city of Edina’s indoor playground, said the park — was busy from the morning into the early afternoon.

“There was a definite sense of we could be cooped up for a little bit, so we wanted to go out and do something while it still seemed safe out. So I think that was the motivation for folks,” McGrath said.

People in western Minnesota didn’t have quite the same grace period. Hunter Wachenheim, 13, and his sister Ellie, 14, spent part of their day off clearing snow.

“We went and did our neighbor’s driveway, and then we did ours. At least we have a snowblower, so that works pretty well,” Hunter Wachenheim said. His sister added that it took them about an hour.

“And then we came back out and cleared the stuff the snowplow brought in,” he said.

As the storm pushed its way across the state, the public transit agency in St. Cloud notified riders that all bus service would end for the day at 3 p.m. Berta Hartig with St. Cloud Metro Bus said the biggest concern Monday was icy roads.

“We really have to be concerned about safety. It’s very rare that we make that decision to close down early,” Hartig said.

In the Twin Cities, where the heavy snow didn’t start until late afternoon, Metro Transit said delays on the Blue and Green light rail lines were minimal, and the 30 percent of buses that were delayed were only an average of six minutes behind schedule.

By evening rush hour, MnDOT’s online traffic map did not report an unusually large number of crashes and spinouts in the Twin Cities metro. People generally heeded the warnings, MnDOT spokesperson Kevin Gutknecht said.

“There were a lot of schools out, which I think helps cut down on traffic. I think people might have left work early or worked from home. Traffic levels seem to be down a bit, and I think folks slowed down,” he said.

While the weather kept many people home, Twin Cities music fans had places to go. Nate Kranz, general manager of First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, said it never crossed his mind to cancel Monday night’s concert by rapper Vince Staples, or a sold-out show by singer-songwriter Betty Who at the Fine Line Cafe.

“I’m always reminded of when we did the Doomtree Blowout several years back when everything was shut down including the buses, cabs everything, but we still had capacity shows for three straight nights,” Kranz said.

As the performers took to the stage, snow plow drivers began the all-night task of clearing the roads. MnDOT’s Gutknecht says the good news about this storm is that temperatures are only a few degrees below freezing, meaning road salt will work as intended.