Blizzard wreaks havoc on region Saturday
Several stranded vehicles reported
in Walsh County
REGION – A brief but powerful winter weather system caught folks off guard in the Red River Valley on Saturday.
At first, a blast of Arctic air coming in behind a low pressure system from the northwest known as an Alberta Clipper, prompted a winter weather advisory early Saturday morning. At approximately 11 a.m., the National Weather Service (NWS) changed that to a blizzard warning covering the northern half of the Red River Valley corridor bordering Minnesota and North Dakota.
Originally the blizzard warning was set to expire at 6 p.m. Saturday, but was extended to 9 p.m. and then midnight. The warning was also enlarged to cover the entire Red River Valley along the North Dakota-Minnesota border.
According to WDAZ Storm Tracker meteorologist Aaron White, a blizzard warning is issued when sustained winds of 35 miles-per-hour or more are forecast over a period of at least three hours. Saturday’s conditions surpassed that.
“We had sustained winds of nearly 40-miles-per-hour for more than three hours and gusts approaching 55-miles-per-hour in a few places,” White said.
The snow and blowing snow resulted in reduced visibilities of less than one quarter of a mile with isolated whiteout conditions.
Many motorists who decided to travel when the winter weather advisory was issued found themselves trapped in much more severe circumstances later in the day.
According to reports from various law enforcement, numerous fender benders were reported up and down the valley and there were several cases where motorists drove off the road because of the poor visibility.
A multi-vehicle accident involving a fatality in the northbound lane of Interstate 29 near Drayton was reported due to the poor driving conditions, but no further details were currently available.
Chief Deputy Ron Jurgens with the Walsh County Sheriff’s Department said there were multiply reports of people in the ditch and just one accident Saturday.
He reminded drivers to heed travel warnings and to not venture out in conditions like those which occurred Saturday.
“Not only are people putting their own lives at risk, but they’re also endangering those that might have to come out and find them,” he said.
The official high temperature recorded in Grafton on Friday was a balmy 36 degrees and the overnight low was a mild 20 degrees.
After a high temperature of 22 degrees early Saturday, the temperature plunged to an overnight low of 15 degrees below zero.
Temperatures didn’t rebound much on Sunday as the high recorded was 8 degrees below zero with an overnight low plunging to 24 degrees below zero.
White said the roller coaster ride of brief warm ups followed by more prolonged cold snaps is expected to continue for at least the next couple of weeks.
Folks in the northern Red River Valley have already suffered through an unusually cold December. According to NWS data in Grand Forks, December temperatures were 10.7 degrees below normal, making it the seventh coldest December on record.
The extended forecast is currently calling for a brief warm up this Friday and Saturday followed by another plunge into subzero temperatures.