Closures lifted on major roads, but motorists should still expect difficult travel
BEMIDJI - Road closures around the Bemidji area were lifted Saturday afternoon after crews treated highways with de-icing materials.
The Beltrami County Sheriff's Office released updated information to caution motorists side streets and less-traveled roads remain icy, and only necessary travel on those roadways is advised. In addition, all road surfaces continue to be wet and motorists should "assume there is a layer of ice underneath and allow yourself plenty of room for stopping," a news release stated. Motorists should not use cruise control.
Hundreds of motorists found themselves in roadside ditches Saturday morning after freezing rain covered highways, including more than 100 vehicles in the ditch at the bypass for U.S. Highways 2 and 71.
Major transportation routes - Highways 2, 71 and 89 - were closed due to accidents.
Icy conditions prompted the Beltrami County sheriff’s and emergency management personnel to warn residents to stay home.
“Roadways are covered with ice and travel is nearly impossible,” read a news release issued late Saturday morning. “If you do not need to travel today, please consider postponing your travel plans until roadways can be treated.”
In addition to the news release, a CodeRED message was sent about 10 a.m. to residents who are signed up for the phone and mobile notification service.
"We are asking the public to stay home and not drive," the Sheriff's Office said in the CodeRed message. "We have many, many vehicles in the ditch. We've had injuries. We encourage you to stay home and not drive today."
The news release said hundreds of vehicles went into ditches, and “several semi-trucks rolled into the ditches. There are many semi-trucks stranded across the region that are not able to safely maneuver on the roadway.”
Most vehicles were quickly removed from ditches, but motorists were traveling at drastically reduced speeds.
A Minnesota State Patrol news release said troopers reported “extremely icy conditions” across the region.
“Motorists are still driving way too fast for the conditions,” the release said. “One trooper reported on a posted 55 mph highway that they were only able to do 10 mph. Black ice conditions are out there.”
State, county and city crews were busy de-icing roads Saturday.
The rain turned into snow shortly after noon, making travel difficult throughout the day.
Those seeking road and travel updates should use Minnesota’s 511 roadway information system.
The National Weather Service in Grand Forks reported the Bemidji area could receive 2 to 4 inches of snow on Saturday.
Temperatures were falling throughout the day on Saturday. The weather service expected a 50 percent of snow overnight and temperatures bottoming out near 13. The forecast for Sunday is a high near 21, with northwest winds between 8 and 11 mph.