Steele County stays relatively safe during 10 inches of snowfall
When the weather outside is frightful, Steele County stays safe. With over 7 inches of snowfall recorded in Owatonna within about a 24 hour period, local law enforcement were happy to say that there were few accidents in Steele County.
The snow started falling early afternoon on Dec. 28 and went pretty steadily through afternoon of Dec. 29.
The Waste Water Treatment Plant in Owatonna recorded 7 inches of snowfall before 8 a.m. on Dec. 29, a number confirmed by the National Weather Service. The following morning, the Waste Water Treatment Plant recorded another three inches for a total snowfall count of 10 inches.
Andrew Montes of Owatonna saw first-hand what the weather was like. He walked almost a mile from his place of work to home. He wore a face mask to keep the wind from blowing on his face. “It was really cold, windy and there was deep snow,” he said. “I tried to walk on the sidewalk to avoid the snow. It was tougher to walk in the deep snow.”
In Medford, Scott Doucette had worked at least 15 minutes in front of his residence trying to shovel out his snow from a deep drift that had been placed there by the city’s snow plow. “Hopefully, I will get out of this,” he said.
A few minutes later with the help of a city employee, Doucette was able to drive his car out of the snow drift.
The combined snowfall, wind and tough visibility made for harsh driving conditions, but Owatonna Fire Department Chief Mike Johnson and Chief Deputy Sheriff of Steele County Scott Hanson agreed that Steele County remained pretty safe during the storm.
Johnson even commented that safety was up compared to storms in years prior, as he said emergency crews only responded to a few minor accidents.
“The National Weather Service and media does a good job to inform people of what is coming so that people can change their plans, maybe do their shopping earlier, so that they can avoid driving altogether,” said Johnson. “That makes a big difference.”
Hanson also reported that it was relatively quiet on the Sheriff Office’s end, though he noted that the freeway stretch in Steele County was a problem area. He thought that the storm was timely for less travel, as it was in between holidays and schools were already off for winter break.
While Johnson agreed, he said that the safety of the interstate has improved during winter conditions due to the addition of median guard rails a few years ago. “They are a big life saver, especially when a car goes into the ditch and goes head on into the alternate lane of traffic,” remarked Johnson. “Those are serious accidents.”
Fortunately, Johnson and Hanson only reported a few minor accidents between 12 p.m. of Dec. 28 and 12 p.m. of Dec. 29.
Unlike Steele County, Troy Christianson of the Minnesota State Patrol reported a different story for the total 11 counties in southeastern Minnesota.
Between 12 p.m. of Dec. 28 and 12 p.m. of Dec. 29, the Minnesota State Patrol reported 66 vehicles gone off the road, 55 property damage crashes and four injury crashes. The injuries are reported all non-life-threatening. He was unable to specify statistics to Steele County.
“Accidents have been pretty much significantly high compared to what we usually have for a storm of this caliber,” said Christianson. “Being that it was the first big storm and that it is a holiday weekend, people are pretty much driving too fast.”
Christianson, like most other officials, suggests that drivers first and foremost should slow down! “The weather doesn’t cause crashes. Driver’s error causes crashes,” he said.
Even Steele Waseca Electric saw a quiet 24 hours during the storm, and they serve nine counties total. As of 12 p.m. of Dec. 29, Kim Huxford of Steele Waseca Electric said that they received no calls about outages.
“The snow was pretty much without rain or ice,” said Huxford. “The system held out pretty good. It’s been quiet. We do ask for drivers to stay away from lines if hit or fallen. If someone does hit a powerline or an underground box, we ask that they remain in their vehicles and call immediately. Then, we will make sure everything is safe.”
Many organizations worked with social media or other outlets to get the word out about the storm and safe driving tips.
According to Steele County Administrator Laura Elvebak, all 10 snow plows were out clearing roads by early afternoon on Dec. 28. She estimated that the plows stayed out until approximately 5 p.m. on Dec. 28 and then begin again at 5 a.m. the next morning. She said that each plow route is approximately 35 to 40 miles long.
“We do urge the public to travel with caution,” said Elvebak while snow was still falling. “The best advice for people is to allow extra time for travel, particularly when traveling around snow plows, as they might have to turn quickly. We want people to be cautious of snow plows, emergency operators, tow trucks and other vehicles that will be out today.”
Elvebak said that the Steele County Facebook page has been an “effective tool” in providing updates on the snow removal and operations process, and the Facebook page says that they have been preparing for the storm since this morning: “Steele County Highway crew members are busy getting things ready in preparation of the snow! Crews are currently replenishing our supplies and loading trucks.”
Minnesota Department of Transportation, National Weather Service and Minnesota State Patrol pulled together to create a list of simple driving tips to remain safe during travel. They also made efforts to prep drivers and warn against unnecessary travel.
Drivers are also encouraged to increase the safe stopping distance between vehicles, buckle up and check that child restraints are secured tightly. Emergency survival kits are recommended for travel during harsh winter conditions.
Before driving a vehicle, drivers are encouraged to clear snow and ice from the vehicle’s windows, hoods, headlights and brake lights. Headlights should be on when snowing or sleeting.
If a vehicle has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), drivers are urged to apply a steady firm pressure to the brake pedal and never pump ABS brakes.
As storms such as this one wrap up and residents move into the “clean up stage,” Johnson recommends that people remain safe in the heavy lifting of the snow during shoveling.
“There are always injuries from people slipping on the ice, and those injuries can usually be avoided by proper shoveling and spreading a little bit of sand so people don’t fall,” said Johnson. He also asks that people be wary of heart conditions that might be pushed too far during shoveling heavy snow.
“For elderly people, you know, it’s nice to see neighbors helping neighbors,” said Johnson. “That is what makes Minnesota so special.”
Also, with more snow build- up, Minnesota Energy Resources reminds residents to avoid the dangers of snow and ice buildup on exhaust vents and natural gas meters, as snow and ice accumulation on furnace vents can lead to the possibility of deadly carbon monoxide levels in homes.
This can be avoided by lightly brushing snow off of meters with a broom, use caution while removing snow around a meter, and remove icicles that may drip water onto meters.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Jim Taggert predicted that Steele County would likely not see another big snow storm for at least seven days after this storm, since the air will stay “warm” in the low 20 degree area with low precipitation.