Surfaces were slick overnight as a light freezing rain created a glossy ice glaze on the frozen ground and put more than a few motorists in the ditch.
Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl estimated at least “half a dozen, maybe more” vehicles slid into the ditch along Highway 3 just north of Brainerd following the start of the storm Thursday night.
“The vehicles in the ditch were pretty sporadic along that Highway (3),” said Dahl. “I think people for the most part slowed down (because of road conditions) but there’s nothing you can do when you hit that glare ice. When the roads are that poor it only takes a second for a person to lose control and wind up in the ditch.”
Deputies were advised to not come and assist at one point Thursday night because the roads were so slick.
“You would like to think that we (deputies) know how to drive on that but we also try to use our common sense as well when going out,” said Dahl, who added no squad cars ended up in the ditch on Highway 3 Thursday night. “We wanted to be proactive in the situation and we handled it.
“The best piece of advice I can give when roads are poor like that is that people are just better off staying home.”
There were no reports of injuries in Crow Wing or Cass counties.
Thursday’s temperatures ranged from a high of 42 degrees to an overnight low of 34 degrees. Rain started to fall in Crow Wing County about 6:15 p.m. By 8 p.m. the county highway department was getting calls from deputies that sand trucks were needed as vehicles were sliding into snowy ditches. One scanner report estimated eight vehicles left the roadway along one county stretch. Crow Wing County Highway Engineer Tim Bray said his crews were out as early as 8 p.m. and were out on area roads until 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. Friday.
The county has 17 plows and more than 600 miles of roads.
“We had all of our trucks going last night,” Bray said.
Crews put out a sand/salt mix to help provide traction for those who did venture out on the roads.
“That was our biggest weapon last night,” Bray said.
The National Weather Service issued a freezing rain advisory for the region from 6 p.m. Thursday to noon Friday. The highway department was in constant contact with schools and the sheriff’s department regarding road conditions.
One of the early county roads causing concerns was the winding and hilly County Highway 11 by Breezy Point. The county was running its plow trucks with chains on the tires. Even so, conditions were so icy one plow truck flipped on its side coming down a hill about 11 p.m. on County Road 131. The driver wasn’t injured and the vehicle sustained minor damage. The driver was back on the roads in the county’s backup plow truck a short time later.
After hours on the roads, Bray said the crews needed to be pulled off the roads to rest.
“We definitely need to rest them,” Bray said of drivers. “The work/rest cycle for our plow drivers is very important. They put in a 12-hour day before anyone got up this morning. That driver is just as big a risk as the snow and ice itself if we don’t rest them. These guys are fantastic. This is not your no-brainer work. This is skill. It’s not just put down the plow and go.”
The Cass County Sheriff’s Department was expecting the worst with the freezing rain, but reported a relatively quiet night on area roads.
Fog and mist persisted in the Brainerd lakes area Friday. The National Weather Service in Duluth expected fog to remain and be dense at times limiting visibility.
For travelers the larger issue may come from falling temperatures, gusty winds and rain turning to snow. The weather service reports rain and snow is likely for the lakes area, turning to all snow after midnight. Winds may gust as high as 35 mph. The chance for more precipitation is 70 percent with perhaps an inch of snow.
Chance of snow continues Saturday as temperatures begin to plummet, falling to 6 degrees by 5 p.m. Winds of 15 to 25 mph from the west with gusts of 35 mph, will make the day feel much colder.
Sunday should see a return of the sun, but don’t look for much heat as the high tops out near 9 degrees and drops to 6 below overnight. Temperatures for the coming week will be below or near the 20 degree average for this time of year with overnight lows a few degrees below zero. Heavy snow is expected in the Baudette area with strong winds making for blizzard conditions and hazardous travel with wind chills 15 to 35 degrees below. Wadena is in a winter weather advisory until noon Saturday with reduced visibility from blowing and driving snow. The weather service advised travelers to use caution and be prepared for slippery roads.
In the lakes area roads and surfaces could be tricky again as temperatures drop and wet roads refreeze. Bray urged drivers to give plow drivers plenty of room as they work.