GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Take the gridlock that knots the Twin Cities transportation system during your average weekday, multiply it by a factor of 10 or so, and you have the traffic nightmare that snared drivers across the metro and greater Minnesota.
The State Patrol says between 2 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. Friday troopers responded to 404 crashes, including one that was fatal and 32 that involved injury. More than 1300 vehicles either spun out or left the road due to slippery or icy conditions.
Images from MnDOT cameras and SKY 11 showed backups on major routes stretching out for miles. Many of those backups were caused by by semi-trailer trucks that either jackknifed, or simply couldn't make it up even the smallest hill or grade due to ice on the road. The State Patrol is reporting more than 40 semi jackknifes since 2 p.m. Thursday.
In fact, I-94 was shut down for an extended period at Highway 280 after semis became stuck, blocking both lanes. The same situation occurred on I-394 westbound right out of the Lowry Tunnel.
"They slow down and lose traction, and that's the way it is," said Aaron Mather with Schmit Towing in Fridley.
Mather had already towed six semis on I-694 eastbound near Silver Lake Road.
"That's the most I've done," he said, adding that the conditions were, "horrible."
MnDOT is hoping that salt trucks will help remedy the situation. They began sending salt rigs out after running plows all night and getting roads down to an icy surface.
In southern Minnesota I-35 remains closed from Owatonna to the Iowa border, and a number of smaller highways have been shut down due to ice or blowing and drifting snow. Governor Mark Dayton issued an emergency order in the wake of the snowstorm, directing the Minnesota National Guard to assist stranded motorists in Renville, Steele and Freeborn Counties.
The brutal road conditions have prompted all State Patrol command staff to suspend their daily duties and provide assistance on state highways.
"We're receiving reports from veteran troopers in several areas of the state of conditions that are as bad as they've seen in 25 years," said State Patrol Lt. Col. Matt Langer. "We need motorists to avoid traveling unless it's absolutely necessary. It is simply too dangerous right now and MnDOT needs room to clear the roads of snow and ice."
The State Patrol expects road conditions to remain treacherous for the next several days.
In the meantime, the action on the roads created quite the distraction at Twin Cities Orthopedics on Friday.
"The trucks are just getting stuck, just in here," said Dana Makepeace from her perch on the fourth floor overlooking Hwy. 62.
Makepeace and her colleagues watched the spinouts throughout the day and also did what they could to help, bringing salt to one stranded semi.
"I put it under her tires and just told her to back up as far as she could that was possible and just get a run for it," she said.