Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Wintry weather means sleeping at school for some Westbrook-Walnut Grove students January 25, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:11 PM

WHEN I WROTE ABOUT WEATHER in southwestern Minnesota earlier this morning, I had no idea a blizzard raged in that part of the state.

But then, around noon, I heard via news reports just how difficult travel and weather conditions are out west. My mom confirmed that in a late afternoon phone call. She lives in Vesta and, at times, can’t see the main drag a block from her house due to blowing snow. This is the worst conditions have been all winter, she says.

Snow gates have been placed across highways with no travel allowed. There have been numerous accidents.

Students from Westbrook-Walnut Grove, my mom tells me, were stranded at school. According to news reports I later read, the district attempted to bus students home already at 10:30 a.m. But by then, winds had increased, reducing visibility. Some parents picked up their kids, while other students went to “snow homes.”

For those of you not privy to the definition of a “snow home,” it’s a designated home where students go should they become stranded in town during a winter storm.

Those kids without a “snow home” are sleeping overnight at district school buildings in Westbrook and Walnut Grove, 15 miles apart.

The school cafeteria is well-stocked, wrestling mats have been pulled out and district staff are spending the night to comfort and plan activities for the stranded students, according to information from KLGR radio in Redwood Falls.

I’m just wondering if my nephew Adam, a Walnut Grove teacher, is among those attending the slumber party.

Near Redwood Falls, my cousin Sandy is wondering if her husband, Bill, can get to their rental farm, about five miles away, around midnight to check on the cattle. He’s hoping the wind dies down by then.

I e-mailed and suggested Bill tie a rope to his truck so that if he becomes lost in the blizzard, he can track the rope back home. I was only half kidding.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Winter on the wind-swept southwestern Minnesota prairie

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:17 AM

Minnesota Highway 30 in southwestern Minnesota.

A FEW WEEKS AGO, when cold and snow gripped the North Star state like a vise, I sought photos and stories from southwestern Minnesota, where residents face often brutal weather conditions on the wind-swept prairie.

I grew up there and understand how even an inch of snow, combined with strong winds, can become an instant blizzard.

My solicitation elicited only three responses. I expect most of those prairie folks were just too busy digging out from the latest snowfall. Or perhaps they see this type of weather as a winter norm and go about their day-to-day lives without much thought to another snowstorm and more school closings.

So for the trio who responded to my inquiry, thank you. And for those of you who live elsewhere in Minnesota, or elsewhere in the country, here’s a peak at a southwestern Minnesota winter, from those who call the prairie home.

“We just got back from babysitting in Fargo this weekend and we actually have it worse than Fargo…need anything more be said?” my friend Jan writes. She lives near Lucan, population 220, in Redwood County.

Jan then tells how she, her mother-in-law and daughter got stuck in the snow in a 4-wheel drive Armada. “I had to walk close to a mile for help (3 women in the vehicle who own cell phones but none of us had them along…yes tell me how stupid that is!),” Jan shares. “The farmer who helped us had to buck snow to get to the vehicle before he could pull us out!”

I responded to Jan with a chastising e-mail. You bet I did. Didn’t she, after all, invite such a reaction with her “tell me how stupid that is!” comment?

Then there’s Julie, also from Lucan, who got out of Dodge before a winter storm struck. While Julie cuddled her new grandson in Minneapolis, her husband Bob was back home on the prairie. “When I got home on Friday, my husband had spent 4.5 hours digging out and finished off with an hour this morning. Enough already!!” Julie writes.

Icicles formed during a period of snow and frigid temps at the entrance to Downtown Estates in Springfield. Some of the icicles had been removed before Marlys snapped this image in her community.

A bit to the east in Springfield, population 2,200, in Brown County, Marlys took a more optimistic approach to winter by e-mailing photos of winter’s beauty. She snapped images of the iced-in Downtown Estates and the Cottonwood River rest area. “Sure was a beautiful day today,” Marlys writes. If I recall correctly, her January 10 e-mail marked the first relatively “warm” day after a week or more of double-digit, sub-zero temperatures.

Snow buries benches at the Cottonwood River rest area.

If you have some harrowing or entertaining winter stories to share, no matter where you live, I’d like to hear them. But be forewarned, I consider abandoning a snow-entrenched vehicle dangerous and worthy of a lecture.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Springfield photos courtesy of Marlys Vanderwerf