April Storm Kicks Up Lake Superior Waves, Drops Freezing Rain in Duluth

Written by Brady Slater, Peter Passi and Andrew Krueger of the Duluth News Tribune.
Video by Michelle Truax

A late-April dose of sleet, freezing rain and accumulating slush throughout the Northland on Wednesday brought plows back on the roads, and prompted a number of school districts to delay or cancel classes.

Ice accumulations of a quarter-inch — with freezing rain still falling — were reported in Cook County as of Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service. Elsewhere in the Northland, a wintry mix of precipitation was falling.

“We’re a little busy today,” said State Patrol spokesman Neil Dickenson, who was responding to incidents along Interstate 35 on Wednesday morning. “We’ve had some vehicles in the ditch down by Cloquet and Mahtowa — all the way to Pine County. It’s widespread. No major injuries yet, knock on wood. Just vehicles off the road, so far.”

Dickenson said vehicles were hydroplaning atop the slush and losing control.

Despite the conditions, there were no reports of weather-related traffic accidents in Cook County as of noon today, said Valerie Marasco, director of emergency management and public information for the county.

“It was icier this morning, but conditions seem to have improved,” she said.

“The roads are mostly slushy, so we’re just asking people to use some extra caution,” Marasco said.

Gordy Halverson is the Fifth District highway superintendent for St. Louis County. He was up early, rallying his crew, which was out in force in plow trucks putting down sand where necessary and pushing slush and accumulating pools of water from the roads.

As of Wednesday morning, Halverson said it’s been mostly rain between Duluth and Virginia, while both cities along the U.S. Highway 53 corridor were receiving the snow and freezing rain that turns to slush on the roads. But he also described a dynamic situation that’s only consistency was continuing to deliver bad weather.

“It’s been a variety of conditions and it’s changing while we go,” Halverson said.

The school closures help, Halverson said, keeping students from being near roadways and thinning school buses and other traffic from the roads.

“You really have to be observant of children waiting for the bus,” he said. “So there’s less of that. We still watch carefully for pedestrians, though.”

An ice storm warning is in effect until 10 p.m. for Cook and northern Lake counties, the Weather Service reported. A winter weather advisory is in effect until 7 p.m. for St. Louis, Carlton, Douglas, southern Lake, Bayfield, Koochiching, Itasca and Aitkin counties.

“A surge of warm and humid air aloft from the south (is combining) with cold surface air coming from Canada,” the Weather Service reported. “This combination will continue to result in a wintry mixture of freezing rain, sleet, and snow for much of northeast Minnesota and parts of northwest Wisconsin. Portions of the Minnesota Arrowhead continue to face an ice storm and could accumulate as much as three quarters of an inch of icing from freezing rain. Lighter amounts of freezing rain, as well as some sleet and light snow, are likely for other parts of northeast Minnesota, including the Twin Ports area, and northwest Wisconsin.”

Gusty northerly winds may bring down trees and branches and lead to power outages across the Northland today; temperatures are forecast to remain at or below freezing across much of the region.

After quiet weather on Friday and Saturday, another storm system may bring a wintry mix of precipitation to the region Sunday and Monday.