When Jeff Oien and his friends were about to leave on their journey to the Black Hills, they knew there was a storm coming.
“It was going east, we were going west,” Oien said. “We thought we’d be OK.”
They thought wrong.
As their group of six from the Twin Cities drove down Highway 60 and the roads were getting worse and worse, it wasn’t a big surprise to find MnDOT workers putting up barricades, blocking any and all travel for the night. The storm that forecasters had been predicting for a week had delivered some of the snarliest conditions of the season. Powers outages, car crashes, school closings ... and now this.
At a roadside gas station, they found a police officer instructing motorists they could find shelter for the night at the fire hall or a local assisted-living facility. They chose the latter.
“We figured they’d have more puzzles,” Oien quipped.
The crew at the Crystal Seasons assisted-living facility said they been warned by police they may have unexpected visitors Thursday night, just as happened during the storm of a few weeks ago. So they’d set aside a few rooms just in case.
By 9 p.m. they’d welcomed 17 stranded motorists.
“We gave them snacks,” nurse Brittany Miller said. “Toast, cookies, coffee.”
It was a full day of weather-related inconvenience and irritation across the region.
Scores of schools let students go home early. Some didn’t have school at all. Minnesota State University, South Central College and Rasmussen College all canceled evening classes. Verizon Wireless’ call center sent workers home early. River Hills Mall closed as well.
Power outages worsened an already ugly evening.
About 600 customers lost power in Mankato, including a chunk downtown that affected several businesses.
In addition, there were roughly 700-900 Benco Electric customers without power.
Mike Heidemann, Benco’s operations manager, said the weather made it difficult to restore power quickly.
“The travel is the tough part,” he said.
Lt. Tony Adams of the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Department said they spent Thursday dealing with “people who shouldn’t be driving on the roads.”
Luckily, he said, none of them by 9 p.m. were involved in serious crashes.
The State Patrol dealt with weather-related crashes across the state, including 54 vehicles in ditches, 17 crashes (four of which were rollovers) and two crashes that involved injuries in the Rochester area. In the Mankato are, troopers responded to 46 cars in the ditch, four crashes and one injury.
In the Marshall area they had 10 vehicles in ditches, seven crashes and three injuries.
A snow emergency went into effect at 8 p.m. Thursday in Mankato. When a snow emergency is declared, there is no parking on streets. The only exception is where streets are posted “seasonal no parking.” The snow emergency expires at 8 a.m. Friday.
Despite the weather and all its severity, the Black Hills-bound group is OK with how their trip started.
“At first there were some complaints,” Oien said. “But then were OK with it, you know. It gives us a story to tell.”
After getting their rooms situated and facility-issued blankets divided, they decided to brave the weather on foot and head for the nearest bar.