The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 22, 2014

Whipping Winds close schools, make travel tricky

Bitter cold expected to persist today

By Josh Moniz

---- — MANKATO — Blizzard conditions kicked up on Wednesday, leading to school closures and travel advisories throughout the region.

The Mankato region struggled through -40 degree windchill on Wednesday. The temperatures were the second coldest windchill conditions of the season. The Jan. 6 windchill of -48 degrees was the worse this season.

Area residents also experienced high winds Wednesday night, and overnight temperatures were forecasted to plummet to -20 degrees.

KEYC Chief Meteorologist Mark Tarello said he projects windchill conditions in the range of -30 degrees into this morning. He said he does not expect temperatures to break zero today. He said people should plan for a possible high of -4 degrees with 15-20 mph winds. He said the blizzard conditions were to last until around 6 a.m. today.

He warned area residents to take extra precautions because these severe temperatures could result in frostbite in 10 minutes.

“We are seeing (severe windchill) because of the very low temperatures. The wind isn't even that strong, but it doesn't take much to make severe windchill,” Tarello said.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation on Wednesday issued a "no travel" advisory for southwestern Minnesota due to blowing snow creating near zero visibility on roads.

A snow emergency was declared for Mankato's downtown corridor on Wednesday at 10 p.m. and lasts until 8 a.m. today. When a snow emergency is in effect, there is no parking on Mankato streets so snow can be removed efficiently.Temporary parking is available at no cost downtown in the Mankato Place and Civic Center parking ramps during snow emergencies. Parking is also allowed in yards during a snow emergency.

State Patrol spokeswoman Sgt. Jaci Sticha said officers witnessed rough or unsafe driving conditions Wednesday in a C-shaped formation around the western side of Mankato. She warned drivers to be careful because road quality varied wildly from one area to the next area. She pointed to how the western side of Nicollet had difficult road conditions while New Ulm experienced only moderate road conditions.

She said the Mankato area saw several vehicles off the road at areas where Highway 14 intersected with other high-traffic highways. She said part of the high number of incidents was due to traffic volume. But she said the problem was equally caused by drivers underestimating road conditions along bridges and ramps.

Sticha strongly urged area residents to slow down for safety and to heed any possible road closures. She said that drivers will be responsible for any costs of rescuing them on closed roads.

Although drivers were not happy with conditions, area students probably didn't mind as much. Mankato Area Public Schools and St. Peter Public Schools closed at noon Wednesday. This is the fourth time this month that school has been canceled or students were released early because of weather.

Heather Mueller, director of teaching and learning for Mankato Public Schools, said that despite some inconveniences with the numerous snow days this year, the school year is still on track to finish on schedule. She said schools anticipate a few snow days when they draw up their schedule. She said it would take up to 10 full snow days to disrupt the school's schedule and require make-up days.

"The good news is the nature of education allows teachers to monitor and adjust for changing schedules," Mueller said.