Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Waiting for the winter storm January 17, 2020

I expect the view from my front window to look like this by this afternoon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.


WE ARE ONLY HOURS AWAY here in southeastern Minnesota from a major winter storm expected to drop up to a foot of snow on some parts of our state. In my city of Faribault in Rice County, predictions range from five to nine inches.

No matter how you measure it, it’s still snow that will cause travel problems and which needs to be removed. Oh, joy.


This photograph, taken along Minnesota Highway 30 in southwestern Minnesota, shows how the wind drives snow across and onto roadways. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2010.


But it’s not just the snow that will create issues. It’s the strong wind accompanying the snow. Winds tomorrow in the southwestern part of the state, my home area, could reach 50 mph. Thus the blizzard warning starting at midnight in that region.


While in southwestern Minnesota last weekend, I noticed snow already banking in drifts along drainage ditches, here east of Morgan.


I’ve experienced enough winter storms on the prairie to appreciate the seriousness of a blizzard. Reduced visibility creates white-out conditions. Snowdrifts block roads. And those powerful winds plunge the “feels like” temperature into the deadly range when exposed to the elements.


Along Minnesota State Highway 19 on the west edge of Redwood Falls, a sign advises motorists to check travel information.


Still, winter storm after winter storm, people fail to heed the dangers. In and post storm, the media reports vehicles stranded along roadways (mostly interstates) and motorists rescued. I’ve heard of drivers taking back county roads after GPS directed them there because the interstate was closed. Interstate closure is a pretty clear indication that no one should be on the road.


I expect lights on this sign to flash today and tomorrow, closing Minnesota State Highway 19 west of Redwood Falls.


Along certain sections of interstate and highways, snow gates are closed to block the roadway when travel becomes difficult, if not impossible. Just last week when traveling through Redwood Falls, I noticed signage indicating Minnesota State Highway 19 is closed when the yellow light on the sign flashes. A second sign advised motorists to check state travel conditions on MN511.org. While I appreciate that Minnesota Department of Transportation tool, I’ve often found it’s not updated enough.

The bottom line is this, though: Common sense should tell us to stay off the roads during a winter storm like the one barreling into Minnesota and elsewhere today. That said, I’ve advised the husband to leave work early for his commute home from Northfield, a 22-minute drive on a typical, non-storm day.

For those of you in the path of the winter storm, stay safe.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Waiting for the winter storm”

  1. Missy’s Håndarbeid (Missy’s Crafty Mess) Says:

    It’s already snowing and blowing here. Schools called off for most of the state. Sounds like a good day to bake cookies

  2. Be safe everyone and stay warm and inside if do not need to be on the roads. I do not miss this type of weather. Happy Weekend – Enjoy 🙂

  3. Edward Brian Says:

    GPS in rural areas is very unreliable and could be downright deadly leading individuals down section line roads where you could go unnoticed until spring. My package delivery driver days often had me many miles away from my home base when the interstate would be unexpectedly closed during winter storms leaving me to find my way home on country roads in zero visability. I was grateful for the blessings of my job, but I’m very grateful to be retired and no longer have to deal with life threatening conditions. Many a prayer was spoken while my hands tightly gripped the wheel. Be safe everyone.

    • I can only imagine your winter driving experiences, knowing the open prairie as I do. And you are 100 percent right about the unreliability of GPS in rural areas. We always travel with paper maps or atlases. We’re old school that way. But they don’t fail us.

  4. I hope the storm, when it arrives, does not hit too hard ❄️

  5. I got out of MN this trip just in time to miss this huge storm.

    Good warning to all drivers but some drivers just don’t have choices to make like stay at home.

    I remember being on your stretch of interstate taking my children back to my ex after a weekend visitation. In my situation I had no choice to be on the road or not. I would have preferred not but when dealing with difficult choice each person has to do what is best for their situation. I know many truckers who also not allowed to make the choice to stay off the road.
    Just be safe, slow down, and watch for the unsafe conditions if you have no other choice than to be on the road.

    • South of Owatonna, especially, the interstate can clog with snowdrifts when the wind blows. That’s when the interstate closes.

      Glad you missed the winter storm. It hasn’t been nearly as bad in our area as I thought, as predicted.

      • That is the thing about the wide open plains. Those drifts are like sand dunes when the snow is light and grainy. Glad to hear that it wasn’t that bad in your area.
        I hate to say it but it was 72 and sunny here in Macon, Georgia. But, when I have planned hiking next week the temperatures are dropping to the 40s. I just laughed, that is wonderful MN Spring temperatures, perfect for hiking.

      • The weather has turned quite nasty here. Temps dropped to about five degrees, quite a change from early morning when the temp was 24 and we were in the midst of snow removal. The winds are also incredibly strong. Even though it’s not snowing, the air looks white.

  6. Jillian Says:

    I agree I have been in my share of blizzards driving from Minneapolis to Fargo and got stuck walking in the 1995 one in Fargo(luckily we were in town and it was only a few blocks but that -87 wind chill takes your breath away). 2 months after that I moved to Arizona, driving down there we hit another blizzard on I40 near Gallup. Sheesh. Made it to a HOJO and headed out the next morning.

    Common sense would tell anyone that baring a medical emergency… don’t BECOME the emergency in a blizzard… stay put.

    I hope you all fare well through the storm, stay warm and safe! Can’t wait to see pictures of the fresh white landscape 🙂

    • Minus 87 windchill is beyond brutally cold. When my son attended college in Fargo, for only a year, he complained about the incessant wind. Fargo was not a good fit for him and he moved on to finish college at Tufts University in greater Boston. He found that city much more to his liking.

      Right now I’m pretty envious of you in Arizona, even though the snowfall here was much less that predicted. Not sure if I will have my camera out this weekend. Depends on the temp.

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