REGIONAL— The first major snowstorm of the season brought mind-blowing driving conditions to parts of the north of the country, while other areas were left with nothing but rain.
This was an unusual weather phenomenon that limited precipitation largely to the liquid form of Tower, east to Ely and south to Embarras, where most areas only saw little more than a layer of snow. To the west and south, the rain quickly turned to snow, leaving two to six inches across the area.
As a producer of precipitation, the storm was one of the most prolific of the year, dropping 1.8 inches of rain on Tower, with somewhat lesser amounts elsewhere. Embarrassment reported 1.49 inches of rain, while Ely reported 1.38 inches.
Other parts of the region saw significantly more rain, with Tofte on the North Shore reporting 5.75 inches of rain. Two ports saw 3.16 inches of rain, while Isabella received 1.98 inches.
In the west and north, Kabetogama reported 1.69 inches of total liquid precipitation, although some fell as snow. It was the same story at Celina, west of Cook, which collected 1.57 inches of total precipitation, while Orr collected 1.38 inches. Both locations reported about two inches of snow.
Togo, west of Cook, recorded the region’s highest snow total, at ten inches, according to the National Weather Service. Chisholm reported 6.8 inches while Britt reported six inches. NWS meteorologist Greg Frosig said the track of the low pressure system and differences in elevation caused widely varying amounts of snow. Frosig said elevation changes as little as 100 feet can make a significant difference, especially when temperatures hover around the freezing point.
The track of the low pressure system, which was centered on Tower for some time during the storm, created what meteorologists call a “hot nose” centered over southeast Vermilion Lake, east of Ely. It was only a few degrees, but it was enough to tell the difference between rain and snow and it created a remarkably sharp gradient from east to west in the snow line. As the storm left Store Y, for example, with a light blanket of snow, the storm dropped 3-4 inches of white matter on the ground from the Pfeiffer Lake cutoff on the highway. 1, less than five miles west of store Y.
The mild temperatures meant the snow fell heavy and wet and it created some of the most dangerous driving conditions in years. Snowplows would have been few and far between and as the snow accumulated on the still unfrozen road surfaces it created a layer of greasy slush underneath which made it difficult to keep the cars on the road. Dozens of vehicles ended up in ditches across the region and the storm resulted in at least one fatal crash on the highway. 135, near Gilbert. 32-year-old mother Betty Jean Smith and 11-year-old son Dakota, both from Aurora, died in a four-car pile-up shortly before 4 p.m. Thursday. Smith’s 10-year-old daughter was also seriously injured in the crash and was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth.
While some areas missed the white stuff in last week’s storm, a follow-up snowfall late Saturday was more prevalent, falling 1 to 3 inches over much of the area. Although much more limited than the previous storm, the weekend event created its fair share of travel challenges. This includes a St. Louis County plow truck, which overturned in the ditch on Saturday night, on the freeway. 23, between Orr and Nett Lake. Brian Boder, deputy director of public works for St. Louis County, said the driver was not injured in the incident and the truck sustained relatively minor damage.
“Sadly, this happens more frequently than we would like,” Boder said, noting that shoulders that are still soft at this time of year, especially after rain or wet snow, can “suck” trucks into. the ditch before a driver can correct.