A blizzard shut down much of the northern Plains on Sunday with blinding, wind-blown snow and drifts up to 20 feet high, stranding travelers and making life miserable for volunteers sandbagging flood-threatened towns.
Hundreds of miles of highways were closed in Wyoming, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Nebraska and the eastern edge of Montana. Thousands - including two-thirds of Grand Forks, population 49,000 - were without electricity. Two people were killed in Wisconsin.
The blowing snow rebuilt drifts that had begun melting after a winter of record snowfall.
“My mailbox is probably 30 yards away. At times I can’t see it,” said Chad Klinske, who lives about a mile outside Grafton, N.D. “My drifts that were down to 4 or 5 feet are now 12 feet.”
With the electricity off, Klinske had to borrow a generator to run a small space heater and run the sump pump keeping water out of his basement.
“Right now, I’m walling off the living room with cushions from the couch, to try to reduce the area I’ve got to heat,” he said Sunday.
The storm hit southwestern North Dakota the hardest, dumping 2 feet of snow in the town of Bowman. Up to 2 feet also fell in Deadwood, S.D., while 17 inches fell in Bismarck and 16 fell in Hallock, Minn., in the state’s northwest corner.
Power was cut to most of Grand Forks on Sunday and to the entire town of Casselton, about 20 miles west of Fargo. More than 200 of the 1,600 residents kept warm Sunday at the local school, which has its own power generator.
Across the state line in westcentral Minnesota, dikes failed throughout much of Breckenridge during the night, letting the Red River pour as much as 3 feet deep into streets.
Most of the downtown was kneedeep in water and ice, and parked cars were frozen in place.
Meanwhile, 50 mph winds in Wisconsin and Michigan cut power to thousands and ripped part of the roof off Milwaukee County Stadium, where the Brewers open their home season today. The game wasn’t expected to be affected.
A 43-year-old suburban Milwaukee man died when he picked up a downed power line in his back yard that was carrying 5,000 volts of electricity. “It killed him on the spot,” said Wauwatosa Police Lt. Dennis Davidson.
In Montevideo, Minn., 100 miles southeast of Breckenridge, waves driven by 40 mph winds crashed against dikes along the bloated Minnesota River, splashing volunteers as they piled sandbags and coating their clothing and men’s beards with ice.
Most highways were closed in North Dakota, including all 600 miles of Interstates 94 and 29. Amtrak’s Empire Builder passenger train was stranded in Fargo by signal failures.
Travelers also were stranded across the eastern half of Wyoming, with I-80 closed outside Cheyenne.