Minnesotans don’t know how to drive in the snow? Bah!

“I thought you guys were supposed to be good at this winter stuff,” an out-of-towner said to me late Thursday night when I dropped him off at a hotel on the Bloomington strip. It had taken us about 45 minutes to drive from Fairview Hospital, taking the deserted river roads instead of returning to the disaster on the interstate I’d been seeing all evening.

He had witnessed scores of accidents and spin-outs — none with any authorities nearby — along a stretch or two which I’d carefully navigated around in one of the ways I look for interesting people and ideas to blog about — driving for a ride-share service.

Apparently, he’s flying off to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Friday armed with a story about how Minnesotans, except for one heck of a ride-share driver, don’t know how to drive in the snow.

That’s too bad, because that’s not the story of what happened last night; quite the opposite actually.

I hit all the major thoroughfares and a lot of the minor ones — 35W, 494/694, Hennepin Avenue, 94, 100, 394, Excelsior Blvd., Lyndale, etc — and it wasn’t until close to 11 p.m. I spied my first MnDOT salt trucks/plows — over the Wakota Bridge. That was one more than any city or county equipment the entire evening.

Hennepin County didn’t dispatch help until 2 a.m. Friday, the Star Tribune reported.

Surprisingly, the takeaway last night is, aside from the usual goof (I’m looking at you, young driver in Uptown who slowed and then sped through the red light on into the oncoming path of a car that barely skidded to a halt in time after you got flustered and decided to just stop in the middle of your illegal turn), the drivers were pretty skillful on roads that were mostly clear of those responsible for clearing and treating them.

If there was a crawl on the interstate, it was often because people were driving slow — not too slow — given the glare ice they were on, fully matching their driving to the road conditions, just as MnDOT and the State Patrol lecture us about constantly. They left lots of room between them and the car in front. Why, I’d bet they even had their hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel.

That’s all more nuance, perhaps, than the warm folks at home, watching things unfold on the TV news, can understand, but it’s an underreported reality nonetheless. We’re actually pretty good at this.

True, there are certain things you can’t do in conditions like last night that people’s habits make them do. The person in the SUV on 35E near Maryland Avenue, who decided to change lanes on short notice, hitting the accelerator to do so, with traffic approaching in the other lane, found out how the law of physics works the hard way.

But for the most part, what drivers last night accomplished was pretty impressive, though the people of Riyadh will never learn of it.

The people doing the driving weren’t lying about what was happening.

By mid-evening, MnDOT was assuring Twitter it was out, apparently as usual, even if people weren’t seeing any proof.

The good news is we’ve gotten the first “storm” out of our system now and we can get on with winter.

The drivers of Minnesota have shown they’re ready for it. Last night, they did their part to prove it.

  • Rob

    The reason most Minnesotans aren’t too crappy at driving in ice and snow conditions is, sadly, that we get so many opportunities to practice every winter. : (

    Gotta go – need to plan/book my annual winter motorcycle tour in AZ…

  • AL287

    Wednesday morning I had to drive to Stillwater from Forest Lake.

    Washington County Highway 15 was a thin sheet of ice the entire way down. The temperature must have dropped to near freezing with the steady light rain that had fallen the night before—-perfect conditions for black ice.

    I saw one truck in the ditch just before the intersection at 97 and a woman nearly spun out in front of me a couple of miles before 36 in Stillwater.

    There might have been less than an inch of snow but with the frozen road surface it was enough to make driving tricky and treacherous.

    I hope MNDOT is out in force this morning because looking at my deck railing, we easily have 2 inches on the ground in Forest Lake..

    Be careful out there and SLOW DOWN!

  • John

    I was out and about at around 8:45 last night. I didn’t see any plows, but I didn’t see much need for them either, at least not on 394.

    Most everyone was clipping along at 40-60 (I don’t know exactly – I was watching the road, not my speedo). Felt pretty solid under my wheels. No slippage. Except the one guy I ended up behind. He thought 25 was a little fast for conditions. Terrifying coming up behind him as we both changed lanes to get to the exit.

    • Yeah, the line where it was bad (aside from Excelsior Blvd) was mostly north of 94. Anywhere in Mpls was pretty awful but the good news was that there weren’t many people on downtown and surface streets.

      • John

        It was nice and quiet walking the dog. Beautiful snow falling. Nobody else on the sidewalk (we got to make the first footprints on most of it).

        Everyone was apparently hiding inside (my family was, except for hound and me). Too bad for them. They all missed out.

        • I can’t wait, actually, for the below zero weather when each footstep in the snow comes with a “crunch”. And the stars are so crystal clear you can see worlds you never saw before.

          • 212944

            Walking the dog plus a flask of whiskey on a clear Minnesota winter evening is highly underrated.

          • Jim in RF

            I need to get a dog.

          • Rob

            Get two!

          • I can hook you up with one or two. Then again your local animal shelter will have them as well.

          • Heh, not MY dogs.

            /I have smaller Min Pins…one wears PJs to bed.

          • John

            a little traditional nordic skiing on trails far outside city limits at night below zero is magic like nothing else. No headlamp needed.

  • Gary F

    Amazing last night in Highland/MacGroveland of St Paul. At least 5 or so cars trying to make the yellow light at intersections on that ice. Scary.

    • Yes, I cut through the neighborhood a couple of times and saw quite a few of the end-result of that.

    • There was one yokel who was wedged on some medium sized lawn boulders at Randolph and Fairview last night. I don’t even know how he did that and he was still wedged there 90 minutes later when we left the Groveland Tap for home (played hockey last night at Drake).

  • jon

    The worst thing to drive on is snow that happens when it’s “warm” it’s wet, it’s heavy, it might even start as freezing rain, it’s always among the worst driving experience of the year.

    There are two times of year when this sort of snow freezing rain gross slop mix happens, the spring and the fall. In mid January the amount of snow we got last night and this morning would not even constitute a plowable event.

    • boB from WA

      For those of us out here on the Left Coast, that is how all of our winter driving is like. Heavy, wet snow packed into ice. And, unlike you folks back in the Land ‘O Snow, most of the folks out here Do Not know how to drive in this crap.

      • When my son was moving out to Seattle from Minneapolis, he had to drive through some of the mountain passes during the winter.

        Troopers were stopping pretty much everyone at several passes making sure the drivers had winter tires/chains/whatever.

        My son pulled up to the troopers, they took one look at his Minnesota license plate and just waved him through.


        • boB from WA

          That’s priceless!

  • Mike Worcester

    I know this missive won’t be popular with all on here (or the general public I’m sure), but I do tire of how when we get that first winter weather event and the drivers react accordingly that a thousand and one fingers get pointed at the folks whose mission it is to try and keep those roads passable. We’ve gotten really good over the years at making winter driving more tolerable and less painful. It’s not perfect by any means but still….

    Some of us on this page can easily recall what travel in those winter months was like thirty or forty years ago compared to now; it’s much better. So when I see the comments and listen to the sniping, I remind myself of two simple truths: someone is always going to complain no matter what; and we have it pretty good now. Then I take a deep breath and settle in for my slower morning slog. And yeah, it was definitely slower this morning.

    • Al

      First big storm of the year, every year, I drive in with my windows down and the Beach Boys cranked. It makes the snail’s pace a hell of a lot more enjoyable. Cheers, all.


    • crystals

      I both agree with you AND was still shocked that last night at 9:00 pm it appeared (and felt) as though 494 and 62 – key thoroughfares for the metro area – had seemingly had no treatment thus far.

      I guess what I don’t understand, and genuinely would be interested to know, is how MNDoT figures out when and how to deploy resources. Some snows it feels like they are out immediately and often, but last night it felt as though they were fully absent (even though I believe they weren’t). It’s just confusing to me.

      • boB from WA

        Boy, that’d be a great discussion to have w/Kerri Miller. Hint, Hint

        • KTFoley

          And if she could fit in the annual warning about using headlights whenever the streetlights or windshield wipers are on (ditto for everyone else who mentions traffic), that’d be a terrific.

          A different discussion board floated the question about how many pet peeves a person is allowed before becoming just a crank. I’m well on my way to crank-dom with this one.

          • Veronica

            I complained about the headlight thing earlier this week. 4pm on Tuesday when it was pretty dark I drove past a Richfield Police SUV with wipers on and headlights off.

          • boB from WA

            Does the phrase “citizen’s arrest” come to mind?

      • Mike Worcester

        And I wished I had a good answer for that also. Having been on a local snow removal crew (city) it’s never easy to get the timing exactly right. The added stress for the metro area is traffic, esp at rush hour. Like you, it’s a conversation I’d be interested to hear.

  • Jerry

    I saw several plows on 52/55 last night between 7 and 7:30. Minneapolis city streets were absolutely glaze ice at every intersection though.

  • KTN

    20 years ago I finally convinced my wife that my obsession with having 2 sets of wheels and tires for each car was right. Now she asks – when are my winter wheels going on the car. What was thought as an expensive toy, is now just how we roll.

    Then I told her to find an empty lot, and learn how the car reacts in the snow. Put the car in a spin, mash the brakes and see how ABS works. Seems like these things should be taught in drivers ed, but alas, we’re left with drivers unable to control their cars in anything other than dry roads.

  • KTFoley

    Had a close call last night in south Minneapolis when a driver skipped the stop sign altogether to cross 26th Street in front of oncoming traffic (our car), then couldn’t clear the intersection …nor could we stop.

    This was around 6:45, when we had given ourselves an hour to make a 25 minute trip. You’re right, though: the city streets were slow-moving because for the most part everyone was driving cautiously.

    The ride home at 9:00 had more snow but fewer vehicles, and felt a lot more sane overall.

    • QuietBlue

      When the roads are bad, I always choose less traffic and possibly less plowed/treated over one that has more traffic. I know what my car and can’t do in bad weather, but I can’t control other drivers.

  • QuietBlue

    I think people reflexively blame MNDOT even for roads that aren’t their responsibility. I usually see more issues on city and county streets. Sometimes the differences are stark when driving from one city to another on surface roads.

    • They absolutely do. I constantly see people complaining that “MnDOT hasn’t plowed” some street in front of their house yet.

  • Joseph

    Bob, are you driving for Uber/Lyft now?

  • Dave Draeger

    I love that phrase, but they might not have been doing “10 and 2”. When my kid took drivers ed about a decade and a half ago, he said they now teach “9 and 3” or “8 and 4” so if the airbag blows, it won’t slam your wrists into your face.

    • Rob

      10 aand 2 is still optimal; you have fuller steering range for emergency maneuvers. And once the airbag pops, you’ll likely have bigger issues than getting stung by a wrist slap to the face.