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Staying safe on Twin Cities roadways during winter weather

Winter weather arrived in force last Friday and the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety are reminding residents to stay safe on the roads while traveling this holiday season.

Anne Meyer, MnDOT spokesperson, said even though the department prepares for winter storms, snowfall can be unpredictable.

"The dilemma is, storms are funny. They often change as they come in so we do our best to plan, but we are always aware that storms can change in a variety of ways," said Meyer. "So, we're constantly kind of adjusting for that variable, the unknowns."

Meyer said the Dec. 10 winter storm was the biggest one of the season so far, with some areas that saw up to a foot of snow — and while Minnesota is no stranger to snow, it's still important to keep safety in mind.

"With that particular storm, it was a lot heavier snow than what we've seen so far with long durations of snow as well. Some places probably saw an inch of snow in an hour," said Meyer. "It's one of the heaviest snow storms so far this season which is not unfamiliar with Minnesotans. This is not new to us."

According to the National Weather Service, in Carver County, 10 inches of snowfall was reported in Chaska through Saturday, Dec. 11. Chanhassen saw a total of 9 inches of snow and 8.5 inches in Chaska. Over in Scott County, Prior Lake saw a staggering 19 inches of snow through the weekend, 17.7 inches in Jordan, 16.5 inches in Savage and 16 inches in Shakopee.

The heaviest snowfall was observed from the southwest to eastern Twin Cities metro, with amounts drastically decreasing as you moved into the northern Twin Cities, according to NWS.

Meyer said state snow plows were on the grind 24/7 ensuring all major roadways are clean and safe for travelers and commuters, including highways in Scott and Carver Counties.

"We have 800 snowplows statewide, but in the Twin Cities Metro of the 800 snowplows, 200 snowplows are in the metro area, including in the southern metro," she said. "Typically, because we have more traffic in these parts, we keep snowplows on the road 24/7 if needed. Drivers work for 12 hours and a new driver will come in to keep the plow on the road and they'll keep doing that until they keep the roads on the clear getting them back in good shape for travelers."

CHILLING STATISTICS

Every year, Scott and Carver counties see weather-related crashes, but did you know, the summer months are the most deadliest on Minnesota roads? That's according to the DPS.

Although summer months are the deadliest, wintertime leads to the most crashes and poses safety risks and hazards. From 2015 to 2019, officers reported snowy or icy road conditions in more than 78,335 crashes statewide. These crashes resulted in 180 traffic deaths and 19,644 injuries.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly saw fewer vehicles on the road. According to the Minnesota State Patrol and MPR News, traffic volume across Minnesota began to fall almost as soon as Gov. Tim Walz declared a state of “peacetime emergency” due to COVID-19 on March 13. Within a week, average traffic statewide was 30% below traffic levels the same time in 2019. It has remained well below 2019 levels ever since, including some days where traffic was more than 66% below last year’s levels.

According to DPS data, a total of 568 crashes were reported on Highway 169 in Scott County from Jan. 1, 2018 to Dec. 10, 2021. Out of those 568 crashes, 140 resulted in injuries and two fatalities were reported. January months saw the most crashes, with a total of 146, followed by the months of December with a total of 116. Most of the crashes occurred during clear weather totaling 221 crashes, while 164 crashes occurred in snow.

Highway 212, saw a total of 240 crashes from Jan. 1, 2018 to Dec. 10, 2021. Out of those 240 crashes, 57 resulted in injuries and 3 resulted in a fatality. The months of February saw the most crashes, with a total of 54, followed by the months of November, which reported 48 crashes. Like Highway 169, the most crashes on Highway 212 occurred in clear weather, while 55 crashes occurred due to snow-related incidents.

Winter driving safety tips

Scott Wasserman, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said it's important to know weather and road conditions before heading out onto the road during the winter and there are a few ways to do so.

Here are a few of his safety tips:

  • Stay home if possible.
  • Leave early.
  • Slow down and drive to the conditions of the road.
  • Increase driving distance between vehicles.
  • Put distractions away.
  • Headlights on.
  • Make sure your gas tank is full.
  • Drive smart by slowing down, buckling up, driving distraction-free and always line up a sober ride.
  • Buckle up, and make sure child restraints are secured tightly. It is recommended to use bulky clothes and blankets on top of the child restraint harness, not beneath, to ensure harness restraints fit properly.
  • Use extra precautions when driving around snowplows by keeping at least five car-lengths behind plows.
  • Clear snow and ice from vehicle windows, hood, headlights, brake lights and directional signals.
  • Do not use cruise control on snow/icy/wet roads.
  • Equip vehicles with a scraper/brush, small shovel, jumper cables, tow chain, and a bag of sand or cat litter for tire traction. Blanket(s), heavy boots, warm clothing and flashlights are also important, as are storing high-energy foods such as chocolate or energy bars.
  • Parents of teen drivers should make sure new motorists experience snow and ice driving in a safe environment, such as an empty parking lot.

Meyer added that for more weather-related condition information to call 5-1-1 or visit www.511mn.org. The 511 weather information system can also be downloaded on any smartphone.

"The 5-1-1 app is a travel information system on winter driving," she said. "It's a helpful tool that I encourage everyone to look at it before you drive."

For more information on public safety on Minnesota roads, visit https://www.dot.state.mn.us/ and https://dps.mn.gov.


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5th annual Minnesota Holiday Lights Display Guide features homes in Prior Lake

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! The 2021 Minnesota Holiday Lights Display Guide continues its festive list of the best holiday light displays in the Twin Cities Metro and across Minnesota for the fifth year in a row and features three cheery and merry homes in Prior Lake.

The guide is compiled by Mike Marcotte — a self-proclaimed Christmas enthusiast and Eagan resident — and features more than 100 light shows and currently has 115 displays, including in western Wisconsin.

Marcotte said he started the project in 2017 and continues to add to the ever growing list.

“The Guide first started in 2017. After the end of Holiday Lights in the Park at Lake Phalen, there wasn’t a great spot to go look at holiday lights. And the newspapers stopped listing residential displays. So I decided to take matters into my own hands,” said Marcotte. “As for this year’s guide, I typically start planning for it right after the State Fair. Homeowners start to submit their displays in October and it goes live not too long after Halloween. Christmas creep is real!”

Marcotte said he got the idea from his own childhood when he and his family would go out to view beautiful Christmas holiday lights.

“I remember going out to look at holiday lights with my family when I was a kid,” said Marcotte. “It was a fun, inexpensive activity, and it brought everyone such joy. I want to pass along that joy to others.”

Marcotte also said he has several favorite holiday light displays that are definitely worth checking out.

“If I have to pick a paid business display, I really like Christmas in Color at Valleyfair. It’s priced right and definitely has the wow factor. If you’re looking for a neighborhood to check out a lot of displays, head to Inver Grove Heights. The city holds a lights display competition, making the stakes even higher,” he said. “Soldiers 6, a nonprofit that provides specially trained service dogs to military vets, police officers and firefighters, has a display where Santa typically appears. If you’re north of the city, check out Palmer’s Christmas Lights Display in Rush City. It’s a free, drive-thru display with 150,000 lights.”

Marcotte encourages the community to take a drive this holiday season and view some of the homes and business because they put a lot of hard work into them.

“These homeowners pour so much of their time into these displays, and I can tell they’re so proud of them,” said Marcotte. “Many of them are synced to music, which isn’t the easiest thing to do. This is more than putting a string of lights up around your mailbox. We’re talking homes with 100,000 plus lights.”

Homeowners who want to show off their light displays are welcomed to list on the guide for free. For more information and to view a virtual map visit GiveMeTheMike.com.


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