Storm leaves a trace: Bemidji area sees little of powerful winter system
The most powerful winter storm of the year didn't quite live up to its billing Wednesday.
For days, the National Weather Service forecast a major winter storm, and possible blizzard conditions in the region, prompting a series of warnings and advisories.
After a relatively dry and warm winter, weather service officials encouraged people to prepare for a snow emergency and difficult traveling conditions. Motorists were urged to carry an extra flashlight, food and water in their vehicles in preparation of 6 to 8 inches of snow Tuesday through Wednesday evening.
But Tuesday evening passed without snow.
It wasn't until Wednesday morning that winter's gift of wet, white flakes fluttered through the air, leaving little more than a dusting on top of the several inches that fell this past weekend.
Mark Ewens, senior hydrometeorologist technician for the weather service, said there's a good reason the storm didn't pan out in the Bemidji area.
A powerful thunderstorm system, several hundred miles to the south, "robbed" the winter storm of its energy and moisture. At the same time, easterly winds brought drier air above central Minnesota's northwoods.
"It had all the makings of a significant storm," Ewens said Wednesday afternoon. "This was a very powerful storm system."
Some areas received the full brunt of the storm.
In the Duluth area, a blizzard felled trees, power lines and 9 inches of snow by early Wednesday afternoon, bringing transit to a halt.
Drivers in Minnesota found it difficult to stay on the roads as the State Patrol reported more than 280 crashes in less than 24 hours by midday Wednesday.
State offices were closed Wednesday in five counties hit particularly hard by the snowstorm.
Minnesota Management & Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter declared a weather emergency and closed executive branch offices in Aitkin, Pine, Carlton, St. Louis and Lake counties. Courthouses were also closed in those counties.
The storm prompted classes to be canceled in dozens of school districts, and University of Minnesota campuses in Duluth and Morris also shut down.
The largest snow totals statewide were across central Minnesota in a band from Alexandria to Grantsburg, Wis.
The storm's force, while impacting Minnesota and parts of North Dakota and Wisconsin, was not as dramatic as a thunderstorm system and Leap Day tornadoes that swept through states further south.
Twisters roared through the nation's heartland in the early morning darkness Wednesday, flattening entire blocks of homes in small-town Illinois and Kansas and killing at least nine people.
Winds also ripped through the country music mecca of Branson, Mo., damaging some of the city's famous theaters just days before the start of the city's busy tourist season.
The tornado that blasted Harrisburg in southern Illinois, killing six, was an EF4, the second-highest rating given to twisters based on damage. Scientists said it was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph.
By midday, townspeople in the community of 9,000 were sorting through piles of debris and remembering their dead while the winds still howled around them.
Ewens said early season storms producing tornadoes aren't uncommon, particularly in the mid-South.
And while the Upper Great Plains has seen snow recently, the region is "basically in drought," he said.
"Even with this little bit of rain and snow we got, it's pretty dry," said Ewens, adding the recent precipitation appears to be a temporary wet cycle.
He said the climate outlook shows a predominately warm and dry spring and summer for our region.
The Associated Press and Forum Communications Co. reports contributed to this article.