Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

About the current winter storm in Minnesota…a little advice January 18, 2020

Blowing snow reduces visibility along Rice County Road 25/197th Street East near its intersection with CR 23/Gates Avenue mid-afternoon on Saturday, January 18, 2020.


IF ANYONE IN MINNESOTA doubts the danger and fierceness of the current winter storm, just look at this photo.

Taken mid-afternoon, this shows white-out conditions along Rice County Road 25 near Faribault.

In a moment of stupidity, I agreed to go for a little drive in the country. Randy said we’d just head east of town past the rural homes of several friends, then follow another county road for a few miles to Minnesota State Highway 60 that would take us back to town.

Bad idea. The nearer we got to the T intersection of CR 25 and CR 23, the worse the conditions. I admit to a moment or ten of panic when I felt lost in a sea of white. Randy maintained his usual calm demeanor as he turned onto County Road 23 and visibility did not improve. He skirted the edges of drifts, kept the car on the roadway and got us safely to highway 60.

And, no, I did not exit the car to take photos. That would have been a really bad idea given the brutal whipping wind gusting between 30 – 50 mph. People die in weather like this if stranded outdoors. Not that I expected to be stranded. But who does?

If you yell at me in the comments section, your criticism is deserved. Maybe consider this a public service announcement or a first-hand field account from a former journalist.

Stay safe. And don’t be tempted (like me) to venture outside of town during a winter storm/blizzard. Not a good idea.

Watch for more photos in a future post.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


23 Responses to “About the current winter storm in Minnesota…a little advice”

  1. JanBeek Says:

    Oh my! We have been caught in that kind of weather while traveling the road home to Ennis from Bozeman, MT. It was okay when we left home that morning, but the storm raged in before we headed the 60 miles back. What usually takes an hour took at least double that as we crept along, and held our brath every time one of those crazy diesel drivers came roaring past creating a white-out so bad we could see the hood of our own car. No fun!! I’m glad you got home safely … thanks for the warning to others. I hope they heed! And truckers, slow down!!!

  2. Oh my goodness, zero visibility … I’m very glad you got back safely

  3. Beth Ann Says:

    So I guess you didn’t follow your own advice to stay off the roads, huh? Don’t miss this a bit. Happy to take the rain we had here today over your blizzard.

  4. Sandra Van Erp Says:

    Haven’t come very far in the common sense department from the Children’s Blizzard, have we? We only got 4″ in Maplewood this time…over significant ice buildup. But, it’s only Jan. Last year was memorable. https://www.minnpost.com/minnesota-history/2013/01/125-years-ago-deadly-children-s-blizzard-blasted-minnesota/

    • This was a first for me in making (agreeing to) the decision to go into the storm. But, in my growing up years in Redwood County, I remember too well getting caught in these conditions. I recall a school bus ride home from Wabasso to Vesta when a student stood on the bus steps, bus door open, guiding the driver so he would stay on the road during a major winter storm. Visibility was so bad that the driver could not distinguish much of anything. Whoever decided to send a bus packed with children into that storm should never have done so. We’re blessed to have made it safely.

  5. Wow! After all your warnings in your last post you ventured out! I am sure Randy drives in those conditions all time as those storms blow through whipping through the southern plains.
    Great job reporting those first hand conditions. Signs of a true journalist.😊

    Glad you made it safely back to your house.

    • I know. I know. I know. After that first post…I promise, this WILL NOT happen again. But, yes, a true journalist. Decades ago, I was chastised by a small town volunteer fire chief for reaching the scene of a call before the fire trucks. Hey, it was my job to cover fires. But the call was for an anhydrous ammonia tank leak. I deserved the stern lecture I was given about what could have happened to me.

  6. Jillian Says:

    My tummy did little flips reading that. Glad you made it home safe!! They say never to get out of a car in a snowstorm. It’s easier to find a car in the snow than a person.

    • I told Randy as we drove out of that low visibility area that I would not do well if I became stranded in a blizzard. I’m smart enough to know that staying in the vehicle is what one should do. But every fiber of my being would shout, “Go get help! Get yourself out of here!”

      • Edward Brian Says:

        I won’t yell at you. Looking out of the window at home makes things seem like its not so bad out there, those open spaces though……

        I was part of a search party in the 70’s looking for 2 students who didn’t make it home when a blizzard hit during a basketball game in North Dakota. They were found dead in a field a short distance from a farmhouse after they got out of their vehicle and started walking. Unfortunately they walked by the farm in the wind and poor visability. I’m glad you made it home safely.

      • You understand. Looking out the window at home, things didn’t seem so bad. And they didn’t for a mile or two on our drive, until we drove into the open space. And then, boom, that wall of white.

        I am so sorry you were part of a search party with a deadly ending. Such a tragedy. But I understand how one can become easily disoriented during a blizzard.

        Thank you for not yelling at me. 🙂

  7. Brian Says:

    Here’s a blizzard story for you. An old cowboy friend of mine, Alick, back in western North Dakota shared this with me. Alick said his father and grandfather each took a team of horses and wagons of oats from the Killdeer Mountains on a fall day with no snow on the ground to the nearest railroad 40 miles away in Dickinson North Dakota in the early 1900’s. This area had only been settled 20 years earlier so it was still pretty sparsely occupied. While at the train station a telegraph came in from Billings MT warning of a blizzard heading east to the Dickinson area. The two men were warned to head home or find a place to stay. They decided to head home. The blizzard started raging while they were still on the trek home. The younger man was following his father in law when he realized they were going with the wind and off of the road home. Things got so bad that they decided to climb in the back of the wagons under its covering and let the horses go because the men felt the horses knew the way home. Sometime later the horses and wagons stopped, when the men looked out they could see a kerosene lamp in a window of a house doubling as a store and post office in Oakdale ND several miles from their ranch. They were saved! Oakdale no longer exists. My friend Alick passed last spring at 100. He grew up around cowboys who came up on the Texas cattle trails, soldiers who fought against Indians and in the Civil War, and immigrants from the old countries. He’s in the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame and shared many of his stories with me.

  8. Gunny Says:

    Same type of story from my family’s archives. Southeast of Northfield, nice pleasant day, kids in school, many without jackets. About mid afternoon, winds picked up, temperatures dropped so teacher sent the kids home, Later that evening in the ensuing blizzard that hit, two men driving an oxen team. Shortly, they knew the load was way too heavy to be pulled through the existing and rapidly accumulating snow and in the whiteout conditions, could not see to get their bearings. They unhitched the oxen and followed them and were brought to their home.

  9. Littlesundog Says:

    When I was in my 20’s living in Nebraska, a friend and I decided to walk one block down the street to the movie store to rent a few movies during a snowstorm. We could see fairly well getting to the store, but as we walked home – just ONE block away – conditions had worsened. We followed the curbing at the street with our feet until we got to the corner. We managed to walk across the street and find the next block curbing and walked in far enough where we knew the sidewalk should be, and hoped we would find one of two large cedar trees directly in front of the house we rented. We got lucky. We located the trees. I was more afraid than I’d ever been in my life on that short walk home. I never ventured out in a snowstorm again.

    You might enjoy reading, “The Children’s Blizzard” by David Laskin. Some of it takes place at Milford, NE, near Seward, NE – both just a few miles from where I grew up. I’m in awe each time I read that book… how children and teachers headed home from school survived the blizzard of 1888.

    • That is quite the blizzard experience, Lori. Terrifying really. I can picture that scene, having experienced the blizzards of southwestern Minnesota. I’m thankful you got safely back home.

      Thanks for the book recommendation. Once I finish the three books on my stack to read, I’ll search for this one.

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