February starts off with snowfall
February knows how to make an entrance, a very snowy entrance that is.
The Waste Water Treatment Plant in Owatonna recorded five inches of snowfall before 8 a.m. on Feb. 3. The National Weather Service confirmed that five inches of snowfall in northeast Owatonna on its website.
The snow began late morning on Feb. 2 and continued through most of the day and into the morning of Feb. 3. Once the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped, the storm brought icy road conditions for the following days.
During the morning on Feb. 2, the Steele County Sheriff office advised no travel, including local roads and highways. Due to snowfall and wind, visibility was limited, especially in the country. State highways west of 1-35 were closed by mid-day.
With Feb. 2 school cancellations, activities, meetings and other events followed suit. Local law enforcement say that these cancellations and precautions save lives.
“Precautionary travel advisories, shutting down schools and businesses, and even closing roads during some of these terrible conditions is a good call,” said Owatonna Fire Department Chief Mike Johnson. “When we do it, and it works—no one understands, but there may have been injuries, even death, prevented.”
He said that those tragic accidents happen when there are more people on the road. “You can prevent these accidents by not traveling if you can swing it,” said Johnson. “Decide against going out to avoid being stranded on the side of the road or even death.”
Sgt. Gary Okins of Steele County Sheriff Office said that Feb. 2 and 3 were “pretty non-eventful” regarding their number of incidents.
For Feb. 2 and 3, Okins reported six vehicles off road with no injuries in Steele County. There were no incidents of property damage.
“It was good weather-wise,” said Okins. “Everybody obviously listened to reports, stayed home, and drove to conditions because there were a lot of people out.”
Troy Christianson of the Minnesota State Patrol reported that the 11 counties in Southern Minnesota area may have seen less accidents than the storm than the last major storm that started on Dec. 29.
Christianson said that from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 2 in southern Minnesota, there were a reported 59 vehicles off the road, 13 property damage crashes, and 4 injury crashes.
He then gave a wider perspective for all of Minnesota. From 10 a.m. on Feb. 2 to 10 a.m. on Feb 3, there were 475 vehicles off the road, 449 property damage crashes and 39 injury crashes in the state.
Christianson agreed with Johnson when he said that the cancellations “definitely help” bring those accident numbers down. He also remarked that Interstate 90 being closed from Albert Lea to the South Dakota border probably had an impact.
On Feb. 3, Christianson shared that Minnesota already has 29 fatal accidents. Last year at this time, there were 10 fatal accidents. He attributed these deaths to driving too fast, distracted driving, impaired driving, and not wearing seat belts.
He emphasized that the main cause for accidents during harsh winter weather is that travelers drive too fast.
“The weather doesn’t cause crashes. Driver’s error causes crashes,” he said. “People just need to adjust their speed according to the conditions.”
Steele County Administrator Laura Elvebak said that the county plows began in the southern part of the county on Feb. 2 as early as 10 a.m. and went until 5 p.m. On Feb. 3, they plows went out around 5 a.m. and went until around 4:30 p.m.
Elvebak said that the only thing preventing the spreading of salt and sand on county roads right away were the high winds.
“We also always want the public to be aware of one, the plows and trucks kick up a lot of snow and two, don’t assume that the driver of the plow can see you,” said Elvebak. “The trucks have a lot of blind spots, plus they have a lot to look for—other cars, mailboxes, people, snow, and plus they are handling the machine.”
Elvebak also encouraged Steele County residents to look to the Steele County Facebook page for updates on the next storm.
When accidents involve powerlines in any way, Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric Communication Specialist Randy Sobrack encourages individuals to act with caution.
If one is in a vehicle that strikes a powerline, Sobrack encourages individuals to stay in the car until the authorities are there to take care of the situation. If the car is on fire, he said the best thing to do is exit the car by “jumping or shuffling” in such a way that you come into as little contact with the car as possible.
“In this situation, the first place you want to be is in your vehicle,” said Sobrack. “You do not want to be in the path, because you will get electrocuted and possibly die.”
He said that oftentimes individuals outside of the car want to help, but if they touch the car or powerlines, they will likely be “in the path of the electricity.”
Sobrack said that there was only one storm-related power outage, which was south of Owatonna near Litomysl. “The outage took out power for about 25 people. It wasn’t an extended outage, but it was an inconvenience for those 25 people,” he said.
While this one had an unknown cause, Sobrack said that it is more usual for a gust of wind to knock a tree into a line and thus, cause a power outage.