Blizzard closes county roads

Staff photo by Kevin Sweeney Heavy, blowing snow carpeted southern Minnesota on Saturday, causing whiteout conditions on local highways. Even in town, it was hard to see more than a block ahead in the snow. About 5.5 inches fell on Saturday, but the wind pushed some of it into bigger drifts.

BROWN COUNTY — An historic blizzard for this time of year caused the closure of all state and federal highways in Brown County and a number of other areas north, south and west of New Ulm Saturday.

“It’s pretty ugly out there. I haven’t seen anything like this at this time of year in decades,” said New Ulm Police Sgt. Dean Barstad at 2 p.m. Saturday. “Conditions really deteriorated Saturday afternoon. There isn’t much traffic out now. It’s a good day to stay inside,”

He said city and state plows were still operating early Saturday afternoon. Brown County plows were pulled off roads at 11 a.m. Saturday.

The Minnesota State Patrol reported U.S. Highway 14 was closed west of New Ulm to the South Dakota border at 11:13 a.m. State Highway 15 was closed north to Winthrop. State Highway 4 was closed from Fairfax to St. James.

Brown County Deputy Jason Fairbairn said a vehicle was stuck near Highway 14, just west of Essig at 217th Ave, which he said is often a bad spot in tough weather conditions. Another vehicle was reported stuck on County Road 17 near Comfrey.

“I hit white-out conditions at times south of Sleepy Eye on Highway 4, tried going north of Sleepy Eye and turned around and had white-outs at times between Sleepy Eye and New Ulm,” Fairbairn said Saturday afternoon. “There isn’t much traffic now. Most people are staying put.”

The National Weather Service (NWS) reported a blizzard warning for the area until 1 a.m. Sunday with winds of 20 to 30 mph forecast for Saturday night and Sunday. Difficult to impossible travel conditions were part of the warning. Wind gusts of 50 mph were reported in the area. Seven to 11 inches of snow with up to 15 inches of snow in spots were forecast.

The NWS issued a river flood warning for the Cottonwood River at New Ulm. The river was measured at 10 feet Saturday morning. Flood level is 11 feet.