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PROJECT BLIZZARD: Looking back at the February 2019 Blizzard

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Southeastern Minnesota has seen some big storms in the past few years, including 2019.

The year began with the extreme cold in January, and then nearly a month later on Feb. 23 and 24, the region experienced its most recent blizzard.

Upwards of a foot of snow fell across parts of southeastern Minnesota, and with winds gusting upwards of 55 mph for several hour, a blizzard was inevitable.

"Blizzards in this area are fairly rare," said Jeff Boyne, National Weather Service (NWS) La Crosse Meteorologist. "Especially east of I-35."

The terrain and large number of trees in southeast Minnesota were no match for mother nature back in February 2019.

"As we got into Friday morning, we started issuing warnings for the system," Boyne said. "And we were advertising winds about 40 to 50 mph at that time."

A winter storm warning was issued that Friday morning and then upgraded to a blizzard warning early Saturday when it became apparent blizzard conditions were going to occur.

"Snow will typically blow around quite a bit when your temperatures range from the teens to the mid 20s," Boyne said. "That's when it's the most blowable, and the age of the snow also matters. New snow will blow more readily than older snow."

After several hours of heavy snowfall, it came to an end early Sunday. But then the winds really began to kick up, gusting upwards of 55 mph.

"Visibility was a huge issue, nobody could see anything where they were going," said Derrick Crews, Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Austin/Dodge Center Area Supervisor. "On top of that, the roads were just plugged and you couldn't decipher the ditch from the road or anything like that because everything was pure white."

Most roads and major highways were closed. At one point, I-90 was closed between both borders with Wisconsin and South Dakota.

"I-35, I-90 and Highway 52," said Mike Dougherty, MnDOT District 6 Public Engagement and Communication Director. "That really tells you that when those highways close up, especially when all three of them close up, that tells you we're in tough shape. And honestly, all of our highways across the district were closed at one point or another."

MnDOT and several counties pulled plows from the roads at various times Sunday.

"We weren't able to get out and keep at it," Dougherty said. "Yet those drifts built up, and so we were using large, heavy equipment, loaders, bobcats, everything."

Because of the sheer amount of snow and the abundant drifting on the roads, MnDOT needed extra help.

"It was about a day and a half before we even got I-90 opened up," Crews said. "And some of the secondary roads, it was two to three days before we even got to them. It was probably a good three to four days before everything was back to pavement."

The roads were so bad at one point, MnDOT crews were told to put snow piles in front of all the ramps in Austin, in an effort to keep people off the roads.

Sarah Gannon

Sarah Gannon

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