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Early Spring Blizzard Pummels Upper Midwest

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A spring snowstorm in the Upper Midwest shut down schools and government offices, cancelled flights and closed main roads and interstates Monday, while making life miserable for cattle ranchers in the midst of calving season.

The National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings for much of the Dakotas and part of Minnesota, with the storm expected to linger through Monday night in some areas. Eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota could see the most snow, up to 20 inches.

Winds gusting in excess of 40 mph blew the snow around and reduced visibility for motorists.

“People should make plans to stay put or extend their stay on Monday until conditions improve,” South Dakota Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist said in a statement.

South Dakota’s department of transportation closed I-90 between Exit 67 at Ellsworth Air Force Base and Exit 110 at Wall on Monday afternoon. Officials said white-out conditions with zero to near-zero visibility, icy roads, drifting snow, as well as multiple accidents were making safe travel almost impossible in some areas.

Many schools started late or canceled classes, as did numerous colleges and universities, including the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University.

Grand Forks Air Force Base in northeastern North Dakota required only essential personnel to report for duty Monday. North Dakota officials closed all lanes of I-29 from Grand Forks to the Canadian border around 3 p.m. All lanes of I-94 from Bismarck to Fargo were also closed.

Cancellations on flights in and out of the Fargo airport were “piling up” Monday, said Shawn Dobberstein, Fargo Municipal Airport Authority executive director. The airport serves five airlines.

“Whether or not there is more snow coming, visibility is what’s going to get us,” Dobberstein said. “A lot of people are asking about the early morning flights. Typically they’re dependent on the aircraft getting into Fargo tonight, so we will see.”

Numerous public and private agencies and groups throughout the region called off events. And South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard late Monday afternoon revised his original order to close state offices in nine western counties and added seven in the central part of the state.

The weather system that’s coming out of the Rockies is not uncommon for this time of year, said Michael Mathews, a weather service meteorologist in Bismarck, N.D.

Snow dumped by spring storms often can be wet and heavy, but the snowfall early Monday was lighter and fluffier. That was good news for ranchers in the Dakotas as calving season’s in full swing, because wet weather can make calves sick.

Steve Brooks, who ranches in the Bowman area of southwestern North Dakota, said he had about 450 newborn calves and about 50 cows still waiting to give birth.

“It can be tough on them,” he said around sunrise Monday. “We’ve got 5-6 inches of snow (and) the winds are blowing.”

Ranchers prepare for bad storms by bringing their animals closer to the farmyard and monitoring them around the clock.

“You stay up with them all night, all day, try to catch them just as soon as they start calving and get them in the barn,” Brooks said.

He said animals that have calved are put behind shelter, such as tree rows that block the wind, though he said the wind was shifting around Monday and “where we’ve got them, eventually they’re going to be in the wrong place.”

Brooks, 60, has been ranching his entire life and said he’s seen worse blizzards, including some in which he has lost up to one-fifth of his calves.

South Dakota Stockgrowers Association Executive Director Silvia Christen said she didn’t expect a repeat of the early October blizzard that killed more than 43,000 cattle, sheep, horses and bison in that state.

Because heavy winter fur hadn’t grown in last fall, the animals were more susceptible to the extreme weather, she said.

“At this time of year, all of these cattle have gone through the toughest part of winter, so they’re pretty well acclimated, have their heavy fur,” she said. “Most are going to come through OK.”

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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