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Published February 26 2012

Ice, blowing snow make travel difficult; region under blizzard watch Tuesday, Wednesday

FARGO – In an accident that bore several eerie similarities to one that killed four North Dakota State University students near Alexandria, Minn., on Feb. 20, a Fargo man and his passenger were injured when icy conditions caused his eastbound vehicle to cross the Interstate 94 median and strike a westbound semi trailer.

Christopher Schmit, 29, was driving east about four miles west of Medina early Sunday afternoon when he lost control of his vehicle on icy roads. Schmit’s Toyota Tacoma crossed the median, entering the westbound lanes of I-94, where it struck the rear left wheels of a semitrailer driven by Mazur Vitaliy of Wheeling, Ill., according to reports from the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

Schmit’s vehicle spun out in the westbound lane and stopped, facing south in both westbound lanes. Vitaliy attempted to stop, but struck the left side of Schmit’s vehicle with his front end. Vitaliy’s semi rolled onto its passenger side in the median.

Schmit and his passenger, Mikki Schmit, 25, Fargo, were taken by ambulance to the Jamestown (N.D.) Regional Medical Center and then airlifted to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo. Christopher Schmit was listed in guarded condition, while Mikki Schmit is in satisfactory condition, according to a Sanford spokesperson.

Vitaliy was not injured.

A dangerous brew of wet snow, glare ice and freezing temperatures Sunday kept the North Dakota Highway Patrol busy as officers responded to “half a dozen” accidents in the Fargo area, said Sgt. Troy Hischer. That number didn’t include multiple vehicles that wound up in the ditch.

“We were busy this morning and then the roads warmed up, and then they refroze again. The interstate turned to basically a sheet of ice at roughly around 4 o’clock this afternoon, and now it’s icy throughout the whole eastern part of the state,” Hischer said Sunday evening.

A Fergus Falls, Minn., man received minor injuries early Sunday when his vehicle went off Interstate 94 in Clay County, southeast of Moorhead, and rolled in the ditch. Zachary Schrom, 26, was treated and released at a Fargo hospital.

Within city limits, Fargo police officers said there were “at least a couple” of minor, weather-related accidents in the city, including one in which a vehicle struck a fire hydrant.

Travelers throughout the region faced snowdrifts, reduced visibility in open areas and roads made slick by sticky, wet, blowing snow. The region remains under a travel alert because of poor driving conditions.

Observers on the National Weather Service website reported snow accumulations ranging from 2 inches in areas of the northern Red River Valley to more than 10 inches near Cavalier, N.D.

By Sunday night, weather watchers reported 6.4 inches of snow near Detroit Lakes, 4.3 inches in West Fargo and 5 to 6 inches in Fargo.

Snow continued to diminish across the region Sunday night, although winds reached 15 to 20 mph. Today is supposed to bring lighter winds, partly sunny skies and a high around 14 degrees.

But another system is expected to hit the region this week.

A blizzard watch is in effect from Tuesday morning through Wednesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

Falling and blowing snow could result in near-zero visibility at times in open country, with winds gusting up to 40 mph.

Snow accumulations of more than a foot are possible along the Interstate 94 corridor, with lighter amounts in the north.

“This appears to be the strongest storm so far this winter, so make plans now,” say NWS meteorologists.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525