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Forum and wire reports, Published March 15 2013

I-94 now open from Fergus Falls to Alexandria; travel alert issued for southeastern ND

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. – Authorities have reopened all lanes of Interstate 94 from Fergus Falls to Alexandria after jackknifed semis and rollover accidents forced authorities to close the icy stretch this morning.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Minnesota State Patrol closed the approximately 50-mile stretch early Friday.

The eastbound lane had reopened by 8:35 a.m., and the westbound lanes reopened by 9:04 a.m., according to patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow.

Grabow said at least two jackknifed semis had to be pulled out, and there were a couple of rollover accidents that involved injuries not believed to be life-threatening.

Freezing rain fell on parts of west-central Minnesota, creating difficult driving conditions.

“It’s like a skating rink with a light dusting of snow on top,” Grabow said.

Snowplows were spreading sand, but drivers will still need to use caution when I-94 reopens, Grabow said, noting a snowplow was reportedly struck by a vehicle but there were no reported injuries.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation issued a travel alert at 7:40 a.m. for southeastern North Dakota – including Fargo, Ellendale, Jamestown, Valley City and Wahpeton – because of snow and freezing rain causing hazardous driving conditions. Motorists can still travel in those areas, but should reduce speeds and drive according to conditions, the DOT said.

Bruce Nord, maintenance superintendent for the DOT’s southeast region, said the Lisbon, Forman, Lidgerwood and Wyndmere areas all received freezing rain overnight, and it was still raining near Fairmount shortly before 8 a.m.

Road conditions were icy from the Walcott area to the South Dakota border, Nord said. Traffic speeds were reduced, and power lines were hanging low because of ice, he said.

“The guys are having to take it slow and easy trying to get this stuff off,” he said of plow drivers.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol responded to four rollover-type accidents – none involving serious injuries – between 3 and 9:30 a.m. from Christine to the border, where freezing rain fell overnight, Capt. Bryan Niewind said.

“They’re leaving the roadway and hitting the hard snowpack and rolling,” he said.

Ice was spotty on the interstate, Niewind said, and he urged drivers to take their time, not use cruise control and be aware of rapidly changing road conditions.

West of Fargo, snow was blowing but not drifting across I-94 and the road surface was clear and dry, he said.

Numerous fender-benders were reported in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area Friday morning.

The National Weather Service posted advisories in the northern and eastern parts of North Dakota on Friday, with forecasters calling for freezing rain and up to 5 inches of snow. There’s also a chance of snow in the west on Saturday, and it's expected to spread across the state on Sunday.

Forecasters say blowing snow could cause travel problems into Monday.