FARGO, N.D. — A storm that brought snow, strong winds and bitter cold into the eastern Dakotas and western Minnesota early Wednesday, Dec. 23, was making travel treacherous and grounded flights on one of the most anticipated air travel days since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Blizzard warnings were posted in the region as National Weather Service officials called for wind chills to dip to 35 degrees below zero, pushed by gusts of more than 60 mph. Numerous travel advisories urged motorists to stay off the road and several highways were shut down altogether.
“Winter has come to the area,” said Greg Gust, weather service meteorologist in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
The storm was centered in southeastern Minnesota and was expected to track steadily toward Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and northern Michigan by Wednesday night. The heaviest snow band stretched from the Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota back toward Watertown in eastern South Dakota, Gust said.
A large gathering of people showed up at Hector International Airport in Fargo, North Dakota, early Wednesday only to discover that most of the flights had been canceled due to high winds and low visibilities.
“Today was going to be probably our busiest day since COVID hit or definitely just before Thanksgiving,” said Shawn Dobberstein, Fargo Airport Authority executive director. “Our building was pretty full this morning when American, Delta, United decided to cancel some flights.”
The heaviest wind gust was 62 mph in Fargo, Gust said. Conditions were starting to improve midday Wednesday as the storm moved eastward, and Dobberstein was hopeful that flights would resume later in the afternoon.
Authorities in southeastern South Dakota were responding to a multiple-vehicle pileup on Interstate 29 involving up to 20 cars and semis, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported. Northbound lanes were being shut down at the exit to Dell Rapids, about 20 miles north of Sioux Falls.
Other motorists in eastern North and South Dakota opted to wait out the storm. The Coffee Cup Travel Plaza, one of the few stops on I-29 in northeastern South Dakota, was quiet on Wednesday morning, said Dani Zuhke, a worker at the store near the town of Summit.
“There’s blowing snow, low visibility and no travel advised,” she said. “It has been very slow. I don’t know that there are a lot of people out and about. There are times you can only see to the end of our parking lot.”
The Twin Cities were under a winter storm watch with 6 to 8 inches of snow expected, Gust said.
Story by Dave Kolpack, The Associated Press
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