Raindrops turned into snowflakes that began to blanket the region Thursday, Oct. 10, but the storm caused chaos Friday as conditions deteriorated. Portions of Interstate 29, Highway 2 and Interstate 94 closed Friday morning and remained off limits Saturday. Secondary state highways in the Devils Lake area were deemed impassable and blocked because of heavy snow and whiteout conditions.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Nick Carletta said that although conditions appear to have improved inside the city of Grand Forks, the rest of the region is in rough shape. He said snow was still falling Saturday morning near Devils Lake, which was hit hardest by the storm.
Devils Lake saw 24 inches of snow, Lakota had 18 inches of snow and Grand Forks was hit with between 7 and 9 inches. Langdon came in with the highest snowfall total, at 27 inches.
Carletta said the snowfall is expected to let up Saturday afternoon near Devils Lake as the storm moves east. Grand Forks could see several more inches of snowfall.
The North Dakota Highway Patrol posted a photo from 8 a.m. Friday showing road conditions on Hwy 20 2 miles south of Devils Lake.
The North Dakota Highway Patrol took to Twitter to share photos of the dangerous driving conditions — many portions of the state highway system had zero visibility and whiteout conditions, which left drivers stranded or in the ditch. The Highway Patrol posted that its officers had rescued over 50 people from I-94 near Jamestown Friday and helped a bus carrying 42 people near Medina, N.D.
Many ditches were filled with water, which posed an even greater risk to drivers.
Schools and businesses throughout the region closed Friday.
Carletta said the weather service declared an official blizzard throughout Grand Forks County, although whiteout conditions within the city likely did not meet blizzard criteria. Blizzards occur when falling snow pairs with sustained winds over 35 mph to create whiteout conditions and less than a quarter-mile of visibility.
The Herald named the blizzard in honor of Adam Scheel, a UND hockey player from Lakewood, Ohio. Scheel started in goal Friday evening for UND, marking his official regular-season return since injuring his knee last February in a game against Western Michigan.
The Herald has been naming blizzards since at least 1990. Last winter, there were seven named blizzards, just one short of the record set in 1996-97. The newspaper names the storms after notable residents, newsmakers or those with a connection to the Herald.
Carletta said winds were reported near 50-60 mph across the region Friday. The high winds paired with heavy snow also downed numerous trees. The weather service warned of the possibility earlier in the week because snowfall is able to accumulate more easily on trees still carrying leaves. Falling branches crushed power lines throughout the area, causing temporary shortages.
The NoDak Electric Cooperative reported 325 homes were without power Saturday morning in Pembina County. Spokesperson Blaine Rekkon told the Herald Friday that crews were having difficulty reaching repair locations because of closed roads and poor driving conditions.
Throughout the city, reports of flooding poured in amid rapidly falling snow. Grand Forks saw the rainiest September on record just weeks before the October snowstorm hit. Many homeowners were still recovering from the late September rainfall by pumping water from their basements or tearing up soggy carpet. Gov. Doug Burgum said a disaster designation was possible to help farmers who are unable to harvest their crops in the muddy or flooded fields. A press release from his office noted the wet weather caused disease in cereal crops and made it impossible to pull potatoes and sugar beets from the ground.
The region saw 1-2 inches of rain before the raindrops turned into snowflakes Thursday and Friday. Carletta said there were numerous reports of flooding as the storm hit, especially concentrated in the Red River Valley and northwestern Minnesota.
He said it’s uncommon to see such a strong storm system so early in the year. Last year, also on Oct. 10, a snowstorm dropped 5.7 inches in Grand Forks and 19.2 inches at the Air Force base.
This October could potentially set records for the massive levels of snowfall, Carletta said.
Temperatures are expected to stick near the 30s during the early portion of next week before hitting the 40s on Wednesday. Carletta said the rising temperatures cause concern for another wave of flooding.
The Red River is currently in a minor flood stage at Grand Forks, with water levels expected to crest at 39.5 feet early next week. Moderate flood staging occurs at 40 feet.
Winter conditions and storms will determine how intense floodwaters rise in the spring, but meteorologists said the early snowstorm will likely exacerbate conditions.
“We’re pretty much guaranteed to have wet conditions by freeze up — there’s no way it will dry out before things freeze up for good in the winter,” Carletta said. “So we will have wet conditions, which will make it more difficult in the spring. In the end, that’ll still come down more to just how much snow we have above the ground. All I can say right now is with how wet the ground is right now, it will not be able to take a lot of water in the spring. So if we get a lot of snow this winter, then it could be a very nasty spring.”