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I-94 now open between Dickinson and Valley City

BISMARCK -- A blizzard has forced the closure of Interstate 94 and many other highways in central and western North Dakota on Monday. The North Dakota Department of Transportation and the North Dakota Highway Patrol have closed both eastbound and...

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BISMARCK -- A blizzard has forced the closure of Interstate 94 and many other highways in central and western North Dakota on Monday.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation and the North Dakota Highway Patrol have closed both eastbound and westbound lanes of I-94 from Dickinson to Valley City with the exception of the Bismarck/Mandan metro area due to the roadway becoming blocked with heavy snow drifts at overhead structures and vehicles blocking the roadway.

In addition conditions include extreme ice, compacted snow and blowing and drifting snow causing long stretches of icy roads and near zero visibility at times creating hazardous driving conditions, said state officials.  

Motorists are not allowed to travel on a closed road due to life threatening conditions as the road may be impassible or blocked. Motorists who drive on a closed road may be fined up to $250.

The blizzard warning was issued for portions of central and northern North Dakota through Tuesday with those wind gusts of 50 mph and wind chills of 20 below.

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The blizzard was expected to move Monday night and Tuesday into eastern North Dakota, bringing the first major snowstorm of the year.

In Bismarck,  66  vehicle crashes, six hit-and-run incidents and one injury accident were reported from midnight to 3:30 p.m. Monday, said Police Sgt. Mark Buschena.

"Slow down, increase your distance from other vehicles and allow extra time to get there," he advised motorists.

Mandan Police Lt. Lori Flaten reported there were four vehicle crashes and eight stuck vehicle incidents. "A couple of those were semis stuck trying to make it up the hill," she said.

Motorists were urged to travel with an emergency travel kit as hazardous travel is likely, according to reports from the Bismarck office of the National Weather Service.

As of 4:30 p.m. Monday, Bismarck had received 5 inches of snowfall, after recovering from a winter storm last week that dropped 19 inches of snow.

Patrick Ayd, meteorologist for the Bismarck office of the National Weather Service, said winds would continue through Thursday and create poor visibility and drifting.

From 2 to 5 inches of snow is forecast for Morton, Burleigh, Grant, Sioux and Emmons counties.

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NDHP has restricted travel until further notice for all permitted over-dimensional vehicles in the southwest region of North Dakota due to high winds and road conditions. For all other high-profile and long-load type vehicles, weather may affect travel. Take notice of changing conditions.

Ayd said winds would subside by Thursday, but temperatures wouldn't recover much for the weekend: Highs will be 10 to 15 above with lows in the single digits to possibly below zero.

Farther east, a winter storm expected to barrel into the northern Red River Valley on Monday afternoon and Tuesday is now projected to dump more than a foot of snow on Grand Forks and perhaps up to 9 inches in Fargo.

Meteorologists are warning northeastern North Dakota residents the first major winter storm of the season could blast the region with 13 inches of snow overnight Monday and throughout Tuesday. Strong winds could cause blizzard-like conditions Tuesday.

“This thing has ramped up over the past 24 hours,” said meteorologist Ryan Knutsvig of the National Weather Service. The heaviest snow is expected to fall between 6 p.m. Monday and 6 a.m. Tuesday, when Knutsvig said snow could fall as fast as 2 inches per hour. Light snow is expected through Tuesday. Meteorologists believe the northern Red River Valley will see 3 to 7 inches of snow overnight Monday and 2 to 4 inches Tuesday.

Winds are expected to kick up Tuesday, meteorologists say, and possibly create blizzard conditions.  

“The main concern is 30- to 40 mile-per-hour winds combined with the snow on the ground, plus what will be falling at that time,” Knutsvig said.

He said blizzard conditions are most likely in the Devils Lake area between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. Tuesday; the northern Red River Valley has its highest blizzard chances between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday.

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Meteorologists believe the overnight snow will be wet and heavy, with temperatures in the high 20s, but the snowpack is expected to lighten Tuesday as temperatures drop.  

The average projected snowfall for Grand Forks is 13 inches, with a foot expected in nearby Devils Lake and in the northwest Minnesota cities of Crookston and Thief River Falls.

“If we have winds like we’ve been projecting, the drifts could be high,” Knutsvig said.

The southern Red River Valley will miss the brunt of the storm, with Fargo expected to receive at least 3 inches of snow and 9 inches at maximum, he said.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has advised residents of northwest Minnesota to monitor weather conditions and avoid the roads if possible Monday night and Tuesday.

  The Grand Forks Herald, Dickinson Press and Bismarck Tribune contributed to this story

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