Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Documentation of why you should stay off rural roads during a winter storm January 19, 2020

Just outside of Faribault Saturday afternoon along Rice County Road 25, this old farmhouse was easily visible during the storm.

 

THE WEATHER IN MINNESOTA has calmed considerably since Saturday when high winds created blizzard and near-blizzard conditions throughout much of the state.

Now we’re dealing with frigid temps, just two degrees above zero mid-morning here in Faribault with an expected high of maybe 10 degrees. Yes, that’s cold, even for those of us who are life-long residents. But we’ve seen much colder, in the double digits sub-zero.

Weather often dominates conversation in Minnesota because it so dramatically affects our lives. Our plans. Our off-work time, especially in the winter when snow removal can seem like a part-time job. But, hey, we choose to live here, right?

 

Visibility was good as we started out on CR 25 Saturday afternoon.

 

And sometimes we make choices that aren’t too smart. Like mine yesterday to venture with Randy into the countryside to check out conditions. Per my post late Saturday afternoon, here are more photos from that short drive east of Faribault and back.

 

Lots of farm sites and rural homes hug the roadway, breaking the wind.

 

The American flag flying straight out shows the strength of Saturday’s wind on a rural site just east of Faribault along CR 25.

 

After we passed this barn on our friends’ farm site, conditions deteriorated.

 

Heading east out of town along Rice County Road 25/197th Street East, conditions were good. Blowing snow was minimal and we could easily see farm sites along the route. But then, as we edged into more open land, with no treelines or farm sites breaking the wind, visibility quickly lessened.

 

We drove into near white-out conditions along CR 25 near the intersection with CR 23.

 

Blowing snow diminished visibility.

 

We found ourselves enveloped in white, white-out conditions is the proper term.

 

Snow blows around low-slung buildings along CR 23.

 

Snowdrifts partially edged and crept onto sections of CR 23.

 

As we continued to drive south on CR 23, blowing snow reduced visibility even more.

 

Yes, I was scared and even asked Randy to turn around and retrace our route. Easier said than done. Instead, he eased onto County Road 23. Blowing snow still limited visibility although I could see near-the-road farm sites in the haze of white. Considerable drifting of snow near and onto the road now concerned me.

 

Snow pushed back from the roadway at the intersection of CR 23 and Minnesota State Highway 60 and photographed from the front passenger side window.

 

By the time we reached Minnesota State Highway 60, I was so ready to be done with this little adventure. Plowed snow banked the intersection. Randy rolled down his window to check for oncoming traffic.

 

Once on Minnesota State Highway 60 heading west, travel improved. More farm sites border this highway than along the county roads.

 

Then, thankfully, as we drove west toward Faribault, with less open space and farm sites breaking the wind, visibility improved.

 

Conditions as we approached Faribault were good, considering what we’d just driven through.

 

Lesson learned: Stay home during a winter storm, especially when you advise others to do so.

© Copyright 2020 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

 

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

 

Minnesota blizzard closes interstates, creates difficult or impossible travel February 24, 2019

Red circles mark road closures in Minnesota as of late morning Sunday. Source: MnDOT 511 website

 

GOOD MORNING, DEAR READERS,

Here we are, in the midst of another winter storm in southeastern Minnesota. The good news from Faribault: Our snowfall total this morning was not nearly what I expected. About six inches instead of ten. Yahoo. Snow started falling around 6:30 p.m. Saturday and ended sometime early this morning.

I live in town, in a valley. That means my home is sheltered from the brunt of winds that will reach 50 mph this afternoon. Friends who drove into Faribault from the country for 8 a.m. church reported some drifting, but overall decent roads for the weather we’re experiencing.

I expect that to change as the day progresses and wind speeds increase to create drifts and white-out conditions. A blizzard warning remains for southern Minnesota.

Our governor has declared states of emergency in Steele (the neighboring county to my county of Rice) and Freeborn counties.

One look at the Minnesota Department of Transportation website and the severity of this storm and the resulting impossible travels conditions are clear. Every red circle on the map represents a road closure. That includes Interstate 35 from Owatonna to the Iowa border. For awhile the interstate was closed beginning at Faribault. Interstate 90 along the Minnesota-Iowa border. Closed. U.S. Highway 14. Closed. State Highways 60, 30, 15… Closed. I can’t possibly list all of the road closures.

Here’s the deal. Just stay home. It’s not worth risking your life to travel today (outside of city limits) anywhere in southern Minnesota. End of sermon.

TELL ME: If you live in Minnesota, what are conditions like in your area today? Share your weather stories.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The view from Faribault during today’s major winter storm April 14, 2018

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Approaching the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 60 and Division Street in Faribault around 10:30 a.m.

 

ROAD CLOSED. Difficult driving conditions. Travel not advised.

 

I ducked under a canopy to shoot this image in the heart of downtown Faribault late this morning.

 

It’s bad out there folks. Not that I’ve been anywhere except in the downtown area of Faribault today. But that was enough to show me that this major winter storm is exactly as predicted.

 

Driving along Second Avenue toward the intersection with Minnesota State Highway 60 in Faribault. Lots of folks were out this morning buying groceries and getting video rentals.

 

In the 1.5 hours I was out this morning, precipitation transitioned from light snow to heavy. You couldn’t see a block away with strong winds reducing visibility. I can only imagine the view in the open countryside.

 

That’s Fareway Foods, barely visible from across Minnesota State Highway 60 in Faribault.

 

Right now we’re in a lull. The weather looks deceptively calm. Just like it did this morning when I awakened, observed only a light layer of frozen precip on the ground and thought, “This is it, the big storm they were forecasting.”

 

Eastbound on Minnesota State Highway 60 in downtown Faribault shortly before noon.

 

Hours later I wasn’t thinking that as I braced into the wind-driven snow, head down, heading back to the van.

 

Passing by the Faribault Police Department, right, around 11:30 a.m.

 

I’m home now, about to stir up a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and later bake garlic rosemary focaccia. I’d rather be where I was supposed to be today—attending my granddaughter’s second birthday party an hour away. That’s been delayed. And to think, her California family flew in just for the party, only to find themselves in the midst of a major winter storm. Welcome to winter in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bracing for a strong winter storm in Minnesota April 13, 2018

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A GALLON OF UNOPENED milk sits on the top shelf of the refrigerator. A full loaf of bread is tucked into a kitchen drawer. We are ready. Milk. And bread. Two staples.

Randy and I joke about having milk and bread on hand whenever a major winter storm is forecast for Minnesota. And one is for today in to Saturday with blizzard warnings issued for the western part of the state and a winter storm warning for much of southern Minnesota, including the Twin Cities metro.

I’ve heard forecasts of up to a foot of snow in my area. Heavy. Wet. Preceded by rain (already falling), sleet/freezing rain and then snow. Up to an inch of snow an hour. Plus strong winds.

Already people and organizations are rescheduling events like the Echo Fire Relief Association Pork Chop Dinner, the Women’s Cannon River Conference Spring Gathering, a Redwood Senior Dining Potluck…

Saturday will be a good day to hunker down at home and stay off roads. Travel is expected to be difficult, especially on my native prairie where up to 18 inches of snow combined with winds of 40 – 50 mph will create blizzard white-out conditions. Fail to respect those weather conditions and you could find yourself in major trouble if stranded in the countryside. I expect snow gates will be lowered to keep drivers safe and off highways.

Several times in recent weeks, predicted snowfalls have not materialized. But we shouldn’t chance that the weather forecasters are crying wolf. Time will tell…

Be safe, my friends, if you live anywhere in the path of this winter storm.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So…we got a little snow here in Faribault… January 22, 2018

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My patio and backyard photographed around 4 p.m. Monday when the snow let up for a bit. You can see the snow depth by looking at the table and the vintage lawn chairs near the tree to the left.

 

SNOW HAS BEEN FALLING for more than 15 hours now in Faribault with an unofficial accumulation of 14.5 inches measured on my backyard patio.

 

The heavy snow made for some beautiful scenery.

 

Love these snow-laden branches.

 

Strong winds plastered snow to the side of our house, for awhile completely covering the kitchen window.

 

Coupled with high winds, blizzard conditions continue in the region. The Minnesota Department of Transportation advises no travel along roadways like Interstate 35 from Owatonna, past Faribault to just south of the metro. For awhile today, Rice County pulled its snowplows. My husband’s commute home from Northfield along Minnesota State Highway 3 doubled in time to 45 minutes. I convinced him to leave work early, around 12:30 p.m. Conditions were the worst he’s seen on the road in 34 years of driving to and from Northfield.

 

Randy begins the process of clearing snow from our driveway at 4 p.m. Monday.

 

Now, after three hours of tag team snowblowing and shoveling, we have our driveway and sidewalk cleared and that of a senior neighbor. My back aches and I’m tired. It’s been a long time since we’ve had this much snow in one shot.

 

 

Soon I’ll kick back, watch the evening news for snowfall totals across Minnesota. And then sometime during the middle of the night, I’ll startle to the banging of a snowplow blade on Willow Street or the beep of a city plow backing and clearing the intersection.

 

 

When I awaken Tuesday morning, I’ll separate curtain panels and peer outside to see the driveway apron packed with bladed snow. And the process of clearing snow will start all over again.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling