More than a foot of snow fell last week in the Alexandria area in what could be the snowiest October on record.
Eric Ahasic, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service said about 5-inches of snow hit the area on Tuesday, Oct. 20, with 11 more inches falling over the next couple of days – 8.2-inches on Oct. 22, 2.4-inches on Oct. 23 and 0.4-inches on Oct. 25 for a total of 16 inches.
“We do not have the most complete set of records from Alexandria, but this is almost certainly the snowiest October on record as well as the most snow this early in the year,” said Ahasic.
He added that for this area, the only close Octobers they have on record were in 1951, with 7.1-inches and 1995, with 6-inches.
Ready for plowing
As for the early snow, Douglas County Maintenance Superintendent Steve Johansen wasn’t a fan, but said he likes to be prepared and had the salt and sand bins full and ready in July.
He watches the weather constantly and even believes the forecasts most of the time, as the county uses the same weather forecasting system as the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
“I believed them this time and last Monday we started to install our plowing equipment,” said Johansen, adding that it usually takes less than an hour to install the plow equipment and be ready to get out the door for a snow or ice event.
Dane Bosl, Alexandria Public Works director, said the city workers were prepared as well as they typically have snow equipment ready by Oct. 15 each year.
Bosl said he doesn’t remember having so much snow this early in October, but then said, “It’s 2020, so anything can happen.”
Johansen, who has been with the county for three years, said the last three winters have been more early ice on the roads than much snow.
Criteria for sending out the plows varies with each storm, said Bosl. He said it seems every storm poses different challenges.
This past storm in particular the trucks had a hard time getting traction with the heavy wet snow, said Bosl.
Johansen said he is usually on the road at 3 a.m. checking the conditions and watching the forecasts to determine when to send the county trucks out. He said he tries to get the timing just right but it doesn’t always work out that way as Mother Nature has fooled him a time or two, he said.
For the city street department, there are approximately 135 miles with streets, alleys and dead ends. Many of the streets are what Bosl called four passes wide. When there is a 6-inch or less snowfall, the department can cover everything in about 10 to 12 hours, as long as there are no breakdowns.
The city has five plow trucks, two road graders, two pickups, two to three skid loaders, one payloader with a snow pusher, one payloader with a large snow blower on it and six trucks hauling the snow away.
He asks that motorists give the plows some room and to be patient.
“This snow was particularly challenging on areas that were gravel, since nothing was frozen,” said Bosl. “The plows just wanted to dig in, which then takes a lot longer, since we are trying not to make a mess.”
The county highway department takes care of 546 miles and on a regular snow event, Johansen said it takes crews about seven to eight hours to completely plow. On heavy events, it can take 10 to 12 hours.
The county has 13 plow trucks and three road graders, along with one truck and two road graders on reserve.
Johansen also reminded motorists to be very mindful of the equipment when out on the road.
“Most of the time, our operators need to drive with windows down and no heat in the cab because the windows fog up and they have a hard time seeing other vehicles,” he said. “The operators are not purposely trying to upset people. They are concentrating very hard on the hazards that arise while plowing the roads.”
With snowfall totals slowly inching toward that 2-foot mark, the phones at Andes Tower Hills were definitely starting to ring, said Tom Anderson, owner of the ski hill near Kensington, about 16 miles west of Alexandria.
Anderson said the ground is still warm, which means they will lose about half of the snow that has fallen. However, with temperatures expecting to dip well below freezing, he was hoping to start making snow last Friday. He said although natural snow is good, the manmade powder has more texture and doesn't melt as easily.
The ski hill was able to on Saturday, which did happen. Andes was open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Excited about the opening, Anderson said this was the first time that he knows of that Andes opened in October. Previously, the earliest opening date was Nov. 2.
“It sounds like we are going to have a long season,” he said. “We have the potential to be open for 23 straight weeks.”
That would break the ski hill's record of 22 straight weeks, he said, adding that 2019 was rated as one of the best winters in about 10 years. But he said it wasn't because of the snowfall amounts, it was because of the mild temperatures.
If the weather continues its course, he anticipates opening more runs by this coming weekend.