After nearly 30 inches of snow, the city of Willmar looked more like a movie set to Miki Schmidt than an actual town.
"The scene reminded me of one of those old movies where abandoned cars were all over the road and nobody was around," Schmidt said after visiting a gas station Tuesday.
Across central Minnesota, residents began to dig out Wednesday after a major winter storm dumped over two feet of snow and pushed even the snow plows off the road. Several schools in the region remained closed or started classes late.
Around 30 inches of snow were reported in a narrow band that included St. Cloud, Mora, Buffalo and New London. At times, the storm produced 2 to 3 inches of snow per hour, surprising even the National Weather Service.
"It's kind of amazed us," said meteorologist Seth Binau.
The storm headed out of state overnight and only northeastern Minnesota was forecast to see light snow Wednesday. Elsewhere, flurries were expected, according to the weather service.
Still, the two-day snowfall "tops everything" said Roger Spieker, who has been taking official Willmar snow measurements for the weather service for 22 years.
Spieker said the 29.5 inches he recorded fell just short of the local record for continuous snowfall, which was 30.5 inches in 1985. However, the 24-hour total of 21 inches Tuesday did break the local record for the month of November, also set in 1985, he said.
In Clara City, an ambulance required a snowplow to clear a path ahead of it so it could bring a patient to Willmar on Tuesday morning.
"If you don't know how to cuss, this (storm) will teach you," Clara City Police Chief Ralph Bradley said.
In Duluth, wind-lashed waves off Lake Superior buckled and washed away portions of the downtown Lakewalk, while high waves threw up to 70-pound rocks along the shoreline, sending water splashing as high as 30 to 40 feet.
"About 100 feet of the Lakewalk is missing," said Carl Seehus, city parks and recreation director.
City officials asked storm watchers to stay away from the Lakewalk, a popular gathering spot for visitors and residents, for fear that another 200 feet of the wooden and asphalt walkways could collapse.
Truckers coming from Canada, Montana, North Dakota, the Twin Cities, and Wisconsin all reported that the Willmar area -- about 100 miles west of Minneapolis at the crossroads of U.S. Highways 12 and 71 -- had the worst driving conditions they had seen during the storm. A semi jackknifed on Highway 12 in nearby Meeker County, closing that highway.
Many truckers, wearing just light spring jackets, weren't prepared for the sudden onset of winter. A driver at the Cenex Travel Plaza on Highway 12 in Willmar had to wade through waist-high snow drifts to get from his truck to the restaurant, supervisor Christine Just said.
The truck stop sold several disposable cameras to truckers who took pictures of the drifts to provide proof that they were stranded.
"The dispatchers didn't believe them," Just said.
At the Hillcrest Truck Stop on Highway 71 north of Willmar, about 20 trucks stood parked while drivers waited for conditions to improve.
"They're coming in and eating," manager Margaret Serbus said. "I don't think they're worried, they're just bored."
The Minnesota Department of Transportation also pulled its crews off highways in the region.
Elsewhere, conditions began improving Tuesday.
Operations were close to normal at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Northwest Airlines spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said the carrier had no weather-related cancellations and only minor delays. On Monday, Northwest Airlines canceled 72 flights at the airport.
Other two-day snowfall totals included 21.5 inches in Litchfield, an estimated 14 to 16 inches in Princeton, 14 inches in Madison and Canby, 13 inches in Hinckley and Litchfield, and 11 inches in Mora and Rockford.
At least three traffic deaths were blamed on the slippery roads.
Two people died when a car spun out on Highway 65 and collided with a semi Monday near Mora in Kanabec County of east-central Minnesota. Killed were the driver of the car, Heidi Sue Lint, 18, and her grandmother, Darlene Katherine Lint, 64, both of Bovey. The truck driver was not injured. In Otter Tail County of western Minnesota, Scott M. Rheault, 19, of Dent, died after his car slid through an icy intersection and collided with a van near Underwood on Monday.
On the Net:
National Weather Service in Chanhassen: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/mpx
MnDOT Road Conditions: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/winter.html
With on-cycle contributions from The West Central Tribune of Willmar; KWLM, Willmar; KWOA, Worthington; and KDUZ, Hutchinson.
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