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Upper Midwest Digging Out Again From A Foot Of Snow

April 4, 2014

By Tim Harlow, Paul Walsh, and Susan Hogan

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Heavy snow walloped Minneapolis-St. Paul and surrounding communities Friday, persisting into the morning commute and making travel challenging during this unusual but not unprecedented dose of winter in April.

The amount of snow - 12 inches or close to it mostly along the metro`s western and northern edges - combined with below-freezing temperatures and strong wind gusts to leave motorists with a most unpleasant end of the week travel scenario. Across from Duluth, the Superior, Wis., area was pounded with nearly 18 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.

Drivers of those big rigs seemed to have it the worst. Inbound Interstate 94 at Olson Hwy. in downtown Minneapolis was closed around 7 a.m. when several semitrailer trucks failed to make it up an icy incline, spun out and blocked both lanes of traffic. That created gridlock, with backups beginning at Broadway.

Trucks were spinning their wheels on westbound I-694 at Silver Lake Road, leading to traffic jams in New Brighton. The ramp from eastbound 394 to northbound Hwy. 100 near the St. Louis Park-Golden Valley border was open for mere minutes before another semi got stuck and forced the ramp to close anew.

It was no better in the east metro. A stalled semi plugged up traffic on the Lafayette Bridge in St. Paul, and semis were spinning their wheels on westbound I-94 at Marion Street.

As the morning commute trudged on, there were no signs of improvement as vehicles were sliding into ditches and semis came to a halt on slick surfaces.

Motorists trying to use the ramp from westbound Hwy. 36 to southbound I-35E in Maplewood got caught behind a stuck big rig and were stranded for more than 20 minutes.

A crash in the east metro blocked all of northbound Hwy. 61 at Lower Afton Road, creating 30-minute delays coming up from Carver Avenue.

Metro Transit said that 41 percent of its buses were running late in the Twin Cities as of 9 a.m., with delays averaging more than 6 minutes. Staying on time were the Blue Line light rail from the Mall of America to downtown Minneapolis and Northstar commuter rail from Big Lake into downtown Minneapolis.

Buses were being detoured briefly off of Washington Avenue because the road was blocked in front of Coffman Union. That meant riders had to board at Oak Street. Another bus got stuck on the Hwy. 7 ramp at Hwy. 169 ramp in the west metro for about 45 minutes, said transit spokesman John Siqveland.

"If you must travel, please consider taking an earlier trip," Metro Transit said in a posting on its website. "Our bus drivers will do everything they can to remain on schedule while keeping safety first."

Siqveland said, "We have put our winter weather plan into effect and have extra buses on standby ready to support routes that get behind schedule."

The weather service reported 12 inches of snow in Coon Rapids, 11.3 inches in Hutchinson, 11 in Forest Lake, 10.5 in Minneapolis; 10.3 in Buffalo, 10 in Delano and Ramsey, 9.8 in Big Lake and Otsego, 9.5 in Victoria, 9 in Bloomington and White Bear Lake, 8.8 in Chanhassen, 8.5 in New Hope, 8.2 in Vadnais Heights, 8 in Ham Lake and 7.5 inches in Eden Prairie and Edina.

A record April storm in the Twin Cities left behind 13.6 inches of snow in 1983. Normally, about 2 { inches fall for the entire month.

Plymouth was the first metro community Friday to declare a snow emergency, alerting vehicle owners to make way for plows or risk being ticketed and towed.

School districts, having already called off or delayed classes many times these past months because of frigid temperatures and snowstorms, were at it again Friday. Most opted for late starts, but instruction was called off altogether in Forest Lake, Buffalo, Cambridge-Isanti, Red Wing, Annandale, Maple Lake and many districts farther from the Twin Cities and into western Wisconsin.

By 6 a.m. Friday, more than two dozens flights from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport had been canceled or delayed.

Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Gutknecht took to Twitter before sunrise to plead with motorists to drive slowly and give plows room to work. He also warned that ice was underneath the snow.

The high temperature Saturday is likely to hit 45 degrees and move into the 50s by Monday, flirt with 60 by Wednesday and possibly hit 60 by Thursday. Patches of grass showing before Friday`s storm will probably be showing again next week.

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(c)2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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Story image: Photo submitted by WeatherBug user Jim B. of Rogers, Minn., April 4, 2014.

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