Image: Minnesota snow
Kimm Anderson  /  ASSOCIATED PRESS
Cole Kelleher, 22, puts the finishing touches on a snowman Friday in St. Cloud, Minn. A spring blizzard offered perfect weather for snowmen but caused numerous problems across northern Minnesota.
msnbc.com and NBC News
updated 4/11/2008 8:49:22 PM ET 2008-04-12T00:49:22

Minnesotans were surprised Friday by a springtime blizzard that dumped more than a foot of snow on central and northern communities, cut off power to thousands of residents and shut down major roadways.

The U.S. Postal Service canceled mail delivery in Duluth, where 55-mph winds whipped heavy snow into a zero-visibility maelstrom. A blizzard warning remained in effect through Saturday morning.

The main post office in Duluth lost power, along with about 7,500 other customers in the city of 87,000. NBC affiliate KBJR-TV was knocked off the air in the morning.

The Duluth Transit Authority canceled all bus service, and while Duluth’s entire road crew contingent of 190 people was laboring to plow central streets, John Bray, a spokesman for the state Transportation Department, urged residents to stay home.

“I would recommend no travel at all, unless it’s absolutely essential, and I mean absolutely essential — not just for fun,” he said.

Flooding fears already grip region
Once things settle down Saturday afternoon, spring-like conditions should return rapidly, promising difficult conditions for northern Minnesota long after the snow ends.

“It’s spring in the Northland, and that means roller coaster weather,” said Carol Christenson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. 

“By Sunday, we’re talking [temperatures in the] 40s and maybe even 50s and 60s by the start of next week, which will mean rapid melting and the fear of flooding.”

As forecasts made it clear that the storm would reach blizzard proportions, residents rushed to grocery stores, expecting a long siege.

“You had people coming in on cross-country skis and snowmobiles and ATVs and every which way they could get here,” said Gary Sorensen, a manager at Cub Foods in Duluth.

“I’m stocking up mainly on fruits and vegetables and some meats. I plan on making some chili again, since it’s winter all over,” Linda Perry of Duluth said.

Sue Anderson, who was visiting from Oregon, made a dash to the grocery store in amazement that it was still snowing in April.

“Well, it’s spring in Oregon,” she said. “We’re mowing already, and when I flew in I saw the snow, but I didn’t know we were headed for a blizzard,” she said.

Upper Michigan also hit hard
Farther east, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, conditions weren’t quite so bad, but residents still woke up Friday to find as much as 10 inches of wet snow on the ground.

More than 40 school districts called off classes for the day as high winds reduced visibility to dangerous levels.

The late snowfall will mean another round of cleanup efforts, taxing budgets in the region.

Road commissioners in Dickinson County were already concerned that they could exhaust their $7 million budget after clearing the streets of a 7-inch snowfall that ended Wednesday, and the new storm will only make things worse.

If the snow keeps coming, they said, they might have to cut back other projects, such as resurfacing roads and filling potholes.

“These last two snowfalls have been hard on the equipment, being so heavy,” said Mark Ellis, a truck driver with the Road Commission.

“They’re dangerous because the ground is soft. You have to careful so you don’t get into accidents. ... With late snow storms, you do a lot more damage than you are helpful.”

By Alex Johnson of msnbc.com with NBC affiliates KBJR of Duluth, Minn., and WLUC of Marquette, Mich.

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