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Winter storm forces dangerous travel conditions, multiple school-related cancellations

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Talon Novak, a Grand Forks sixth-grader, races to his mother's car Monday from Schroeder Middle School, which let children out at 12:30 p.m. as a blizzard hit Grand Forks. (April Baumgarten/Grand Forks Herald)3 / 3

A winter storm that has forced Red River Valley schools to close early will cause whiteouts and dangerous travel conditions, meteorologists said Monday.

Meteorologists are warning drivers to avoid traveling today in the Red River Valley as a winter storm descends on the area. That expires at midnight, but until then, winds gusting 55 mph, significant drifting and freezing rain could make travel “very dangerous to impossible,” according to the warning.

“Falling and blowing snow with strong winds and poor visibilities are likely,” the warning said. “This will lead to whiteout conditions, making travel extremely dangerous. Do not travel.”

Public and private K-12 schools in Moorhead, West Fargo, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks had early dismissals. Fargo did not cancel school nor did they have early dismissals, however, they did cancel all after-school activities.

UND closed its campus from 12:30 to 11 p.m. Monday, school spokesman Peter Johnson announced via email.

The schools joined a growing list of institutions in the Red River Valley that have canceled classes and after-school activities as a potential blizzard hits the region. The North Dakota Department of Transportation issued the alert at 9:42 a.m. Monday due to snow-covered and slippery roads. Blowing snow also is causing reduced visibility in certain areas, including the Grand Forks, Grafton N.D., and Pembina, N.D., areas.

“A travel alert means conditions are such that motorists can still travel in these areas, but should be advised of rapidly changing conditions,” according to a news release from DOT. “Motorists are encouraged to reduce speeds and drive according to the conditions.”

Public schools in Thief River Falls and Crookston, as well as Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls, also are closing at noon. The University of Minnesota-Crookston has not announced early closings.

Snow started to fall in Grand Forks this morning and could last into the early evening, according to the weather service. Most of the valley, including the Grand Forks area, is slated to see 3 to 6 inches of snow, meteorologists said. More snow could fall into northwest Minnesota, according to the forecast.

Thief River Falls could see 6 to 8 inches of snow, and a line from Fosston, Minn., to Baudette, Minn., could get 8 to 12 inches, meteorologists said.

It appears the Devils Lake region may avoid the brunt of the potential blizzard, seeing 1 to 2 inches in Cando, N.D., and Langdon, N.D., and 2 to 3 inches near Devils Lake, according to the forecast.

Dangerous conditions could persist this afternoon into tonight as gusting winds and blowing snow become a problem, NWS meteorologist Bill Barrett said.

The weather service has a confidence of 80 percent or greater that a this storm could turn into the first blizzard of the season, Barrett added.

The weather service has warned residents to make alternative plans to avoid travel. If they must travel, meteorologists said drivers should prepare a winter emergency kit and watch the forecast for updates.

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