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Patrick Springer, Published December 27 2009

Plowed over: Dig-out begins after storm dumps 17 inches on F-M

The lingering holiday snowstorm continued Saturday to strand travelers, snarl traffic, and fatigue plow crews and emergency responders.

The storm dropped another 3 inches on Fargo-Moorhead by Saturday evening, bringing total accumulations since Wednesday to 17 inches.

The brunt of the storm in the Red River Valley struck a band from Mayville to Grand Forks in North Dakota extending to Thief River Falls, Minn.

Grand Forks recorded 25.1 inches of snow by Saturday evening, with an inch at most of additional accumulation expected overnight into today, said Mark Ewens of the National Weather Service.

“It’s pretty much done,” Ewens said. “Other than some flurries, we should be on the tail end of this silly thing.”

Fargo’s December snowfall total stood at 24.1 inches Saturday evening. That compares to a record 33.5 inches that fell last December.

Both Fargo and Grand Forks posted records on Christmas, Friday, with 8.1 inches in Fargo and 15.7 inches in Grand Forks.

Initial forecasts suggested Saturday would be a day largely devoted to digging out, but the crawling storm’s persistent intensity meant another day of slogging, digging and interrupted travel plans.

“We’ve got ’em from every direction,” said Crissa Grabar, desk services supervisor at the Fargo Holiday Inn, located near the junction of Interstates 94 and 29, where many beleaguered travelers headed for the exit ramps.

Other local motels also reported brisk business from stranded travelers.

Although travel remained difficult, with blowing and drifting snow, plow crews were able to reopen Interstate 94 statewide through North Dakota.

Interstate 29 remained closed between Fargo and Grand Forks, however, but was open to the Canadian and South Dakota borders, although no travel was advised statewide.

In Fargo, plow crews worked to keep up with drifts in exposed outlying areas of town, with many residential streets in Fargo limited to one open lane.

Crews had to navigate around stranded vehicles and passing motorists who didn’t always keep a safe distance.

“We’ve had some scrapes and scratches,” said Al Wiegel, the city of Fargo’s public works director. “Just give the guys some room.”

Conditions were much worse in open areas, with drifts forming as blustery winds continued unabated.

“I-29’s a struggle,” said Bruce Nord of the North Dakota Department of Transportation as his crews worked long hours and fought fatigue to try to keep up with the marathon storm.

As of mid-afternoon, Fargo police had responded to half a dozen accidents, Lt. Jeff Skuza said. But two-wheel-drive vehicles were getting mired in “places they shouldn’t be,” and tow-truck crews were busy, he said.

Another sign of the return of normalcy: The West Acres Shopping Center reopened at 11 a.m., and many other major retailers also opened their doors Saturday.

Normally, the day after Christmas is busy for retailers, as shoppers continue scouting for deals or come to return or exchange gifts.

Because of the continued snowfall, however, the day got off to a somewhat sluggish start, said Rusty Papachek, general manager at West Acres.

“For the most part, the stores are open,” he said early Saturday afternoon. Papachek expected the pace to pick up later, as the weather eased.

The forecast in the wake of the storm is comparatively mild, with scattered flurries expected today in Fargo-Moorhead, and no significant snowfall predicted over the next few days.

New Year’s revelers face a chilly welcome to 2010, with a low around 13 below predicted Thursday night, New Year’s Eve, with a high of 4 above expected Friday, New Year’s Day.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522