Motorists skated across a layer of ice that covered nearly all of southern Minnesota on Tuesday as snow fell well into the morning, compounding the effects of freezing rain that caused school cancellations, delayed flights, and contributed to several fatal accidents.
Up to a half-inch of ice covered the Twin Cities by 9 p.m. Monday, with a layer of slushy snow and sleet following Tuesday. The National Weather Service in Chanhassen reported 2.5 inches of snow by 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The ice was even thicker in southern Minnesota before freezing rain turned to snow near Rochester. Temperatures remained above freezing in most of the southern parts of the state, and the rain turned into a slushy mess but not ice.
Meanwhile, in western Minnesota, the precipitation was mostly snow, and 6 to 10 inches were expected in the southwestern regions.
Weather Service forecaster Bill Harrison said the storm was caused by a strong push of warm air from the Gulf of Mexico that collided with a shallow layer of cold air near the ground.
"It's a very unusual amount of moisture feeding this far north for January," he said.
The collision of air masses created heavy fog in some areas of the state early Monday, and was blamed for a fatal crash near Moorhead that killed one person. Weather was a factor in at least of two of three other fatal crashes Monday night in central Minnesota.
Metro-area hospitals were busy Monday night treating people for injuries -- mostly fractured ankles, wrists and hands -- from falls on icy pavement.
About 1,000 customers in Waterville east of Mankato lost power when two distribution lines were knocked out by the storm, said Xcel Energy Inc. spokeswoman Mary Sandok. And 300 customers in Lafayette near New Ulm lost power for a time.
According to Xcel's Web site, more than 2,600 customers in the Twin Cities metro area waking up around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday did so in the dark.
At least 200 school districts across the state either canceled or delayed classes, and the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts canceled all after-school events. The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference called off its basketball games throughout the state Monday.
The Department of Transportation advised no unnecessary travel in Mankato, Windom and Willmar.
The Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning delayed standardized tests and writing exams for 10th-grade students from Tuesday until Thursday. The department, fearing bad weather would carry into another day, said it was important that all students take the tests on the same day.
Visibility was only 200 feet on Highway 10 near Sabin when a gasoline truck and a grain truck collided around 12:30 p.m. Monday, killing Philip Waldner, 28, of Hawley, according to Clay County authorities. The wreckage caught fire, but the gasoline truck driver escaped.
South of Litchfield in central Minnesota, the driver of a Chevy Blazer lost control on icy roads and struck a car just before 6 p.m. Monday. Christine Jan Christle, 38, of Eden Valley, whose car was hit head-on, died at the scene. In nearby Stearns County, between Roscoe and Richmond, Derek Strom, 25, was thrown from his car and killed after colliding with a truck. The truck driver, Keith Carpenter, 60, of Foreston, suffered minor injuries. It was not clear if weather played a role, a dispatcher said.
A third fatality was reported near Brainerd after a pickup-van collision east of the airport around 10:50 p.m. A State Patrol dispatcher said weather was a factor.
A Northwest Airlines spokesman said the airline canceled about 240 flights Monday, most of them traveling to and from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. About 40 incoming flights were canceled early Tuesday morning, but airport officials said they hoped improving conditions would have things running smoothly by afternoon.
About 100 people spent the night at the airport, while another 1,000 or so headed to hotels because of canceled flights.
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