Blizzard Dolley gave the Minn-Kota Chapter of the Red Cross more than it bargained for when it swept through Grand Forks, N.D., Sunday and Monday.
The fourth winter storm of the season left behind about 4 inches of snow and more than 200 without a place to stay for the night as area hotels were filled to the brim.
Late Monday evening, Red Cross volunteers and city staff opened an emergency shelter in the Alerus Center to house those stranded by road closures.
“We weren’t expecting to get as many as we did,” said chapter spokesman Brian Shawn.
A group of five to 10 Red Cross and city volunteers had about 60 minutes to prepare for what they thought was 50 people. As the night wore on, a total of 226 arrived at the shelter.
“Luckily they were staggered enough to give us enough time to set up cots,” Shawn said.
Cots overflowed from meeting rooms into hallways and locker rooms. The Red Cross provided 565 snacks to travelers and the Alerus Center offered coffee, according to Shawn.
The shelter closed at about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning after Interstate 29 and U.S. Highway 2 reopened. The state reported Monday evening, though, that portions of the highways still had scattered snow drifts or scattered ice on them.
Stranded travelers heading back to Canada Tuesday faced another delay when a five-vehicle accident closed the northbound lanes of Interstate 29 near Drayton, N.D., for about 90 minutes and backed up traffic for miles. Two drivers had minor injuries, the state Highway Patrol said.
The blizzard, which the Herald named after first lady Dolley Madison, dumped between 3 and 9.5 inches of snow on the Red River Valley between Sunday and Monday, according to the Grand Forks National Weather Service office.
High winds — with gusts reaching more than 55 mph in some areas — whipped snow into the air, drastically reducing visibility, even in urban areas, the agency said.
Conditions weren’t safe enough for Grand Forks snow plows to begin clearing snow until about 2 p.m. Monday. Some neighborhoods didn’t see plows on their streets until Tuesday morning.
City officials said business owners and residents should make sure snow is not blocking emergency exits and fire hydrants near their property are not buried. Xcel Energy asked customers to do the same with gas meters as a buildup of snow and ice could lead to natural gas accumulating in a home.
Snow plows began clearing roads outside of the city early Tuesday morning, according to the state Transportation Department.
A wind chill advisory issued by the National Weather Service Monday will remain in effect for northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota until noon today.
Wind chill values were expected to dip into the 25 to 40 below zero range overnight and into this morning, and low temperatures were forecasted to hit 20 below zero.
-- Brandi Jewett