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Published February 11 2013

Heavy snow makes digging out difficult

FARGO – Even for someone training for a bodybuilding competition, the record-breaking snowfall dumped by a weekend blizzard proved to be a workout Monday.

And to think, “I was complaining that the gym wasn’t open today,” Josh Loosmore said, tossing another shovelful away from his snowed-in car in south Fargo.

As road crews and residents in southeastern North Dakota and west central Minnesota began digging out Monday, the quantity of snow wasn’t its only backbreaking quality.

“Very heavy,” said Lee Anderson, maintenance supervisor for Fargo Public Works.

The 9.3 inches of snowfall that fell at the Fargo airport on Sunday contained 0.89 inch of liquid precipitation, easily surpassing the date’s previous records of 3.1 inches of snowfall in 1953 and 0.34 inch of precipitation in 2009.

Other areas also reported high moisture content in the snow. The 15.7 inches of new snow in Breckenridge, Minn., yielded 1.84 inches of liquid, while the region-topping 21 inches of snow dumped on Rothsay, Minn., was 2.21 inches of liquid.

“It’s harder to get it to be more dense without it being actual rain,” said Jim Kaiser, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.

Deep, damp snowfalls are not common in February, which is typically the driest month of the year, he said.

Loosmore, 31, had left his Volkswagen Rabbit parked on 47th Street while visiting a friend. He said they had banked on the storm not living up to the hype and skirting the Fargo-Moorhead area, as several recent storms had done.

“We were just kind of going with the odds, and this time we lost,” he said.

Kaiser said farmers he spoke with welcomed the moisture, but how much it might help with drought conditions depends on how the spring melt unfolds.

“If we can gradually melt this and let it percolate into the soils, that’ll really help to recharge the system,” he said.

Road crews struggled much of the day to clear a dense snowpack as high as the plow blades on Interstate 29, which at 5 p.m. was the last major road in the region to reopen.

Snowplows and truck-mounted blowers worked nonstop on I-29 in North Dakota, said Bob Walton, Fargo district engineer for the state Department of Transportation. The Grand Forks and Valley City districts supplied nine extra snowplows and two of the five snow blowers, he said.

Under the snow, the roadway was still slippery from a mist that froze on the pavement before the snow started, further frustrating plow drivers.

“The wind’s down, so that isn’t as big a problem with drifting, but it’s so deep that if you plow it back it almost rolls in back behind you,” Walton said.

Officials said they hoped to have residential streets cleared by Monday night in Fargo and by this morning in Moorhead. West Fargo’s snow removal was running ahead of schedule when residential work began Monday morning.

Students who had classes canceled for the day flocked to Fargo’s Dike West sledding hill. Among them were Fargo South sophomore Josh Weiler, 16, and Luis Rieken, 16, an exchange student from Germany who was sledding for the first time.

“Last year we couldn’t do anything,” Weiler said, referring to last winter’s lack of snow. “We figured, might as well take advantage of it.”

A shivering Rieken said winters in his German hometown near the sea aren’t nearly as snowy – or cold.

“This is insane,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528