The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 2, 2014

Riding out winter gales is a challenge

In yet another chapter of this winter that just won’t quit, the National Weather Service issued another blizzard warning last week for the area.

The technical definition of a blizzard calls for sustained wind or frequent gusts to 35 miles an hour or greater accompanied by considerable falling or blowing snow reducing visibility frequently to less than a quarter-mile, all of this lasting for at least three hours.

So on that basis, we certainly had blizzard conditions last Thursday in parts of Minnesota.

But not all blizzards are created equal.

Naturally, they’re never very pleasant things. But in the immediate Mankato area, we’re blessed with geographic features like bluffs, woodlands and rolling countrysides that tend to blunt the full force of a wintery gale.

To truly understand what a fearsome thing a blizzard really can be, one really needs to be in the wide-open flatland of southwestern Minnesota.

In counties like Cottonwood, Nobles, Jackson and Watonwan Counties, save for a few river flowages and sparse groves, the wind blows virtually unimpeded across bare, flat farmland.

The term “white-out conditions” is a term that frequently accompanies a blizzard warning.

Around here, white-out conditions — where your world ends at the end of the car hood — certainly can make for difficult, dangerous travel.

But on the prairie where I grew up, given just a few inches of snow and 50 mph winds, your world ended at the windshield as unrelenting wind-driven snow obliterated any visual connections at all. There are scores of accounts in the late 1900s and even well into the 20th century of farmers getting lost and perishing while trying to get from barn to house in their own familiar farmyard during a prairie blizzard. As a precaution, many strung a rope between barn door and back door to guide them.

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