Gusting winds and drifted snow made for difficult conditions on both roads and lakes Sunday, Feb. 24.
With wind speeds measured at 40 mph at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport over the weekend, many resorts on Mille Lacs Lake advised ice anglers to leave the lake early in the day Sunday to avoid hazardous conditions, though not everyone did so.
"Some of them did; some of them didn't," Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida said Monday evening.
The non-compliance resulted in about 100 vehicles stuck on the ice Sunday night and into Monday waiting for plows.
Guida said the sheriff's office started receiving calls from anglers Sunday night, asking for a plow to come help them get their vehicles out. After confirming all the callers had shelter, heat and food, deemed themselves safe and were not in emergency situations, Guida said the anglers were told to call if anything changed, but there wasn't much else the sheriff's office could do.
"They fished until Sunday night and then they started calling us because they thought they basically could just call and say, 'Hey, I'm 6 miles out on the lake, I'm ready to go home, come plow my truck out,'" Guida said.
Both Aitkin and Mille Lacs counties, along with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, had snowmobiles out on the lake Sunday night offering to bring people in if they wanted.
"Those people would not come in without their vehicles," Guida said, noting the Aitkin County Sheriff's Office doesn't have a plow service. "And it wasn't an emergency."
Mille Lacs County Sheriff Don Lorge said his search and rescue officer brought one person in on a snowmobile Sunday night, though it wasn't an emergency. The search and rescue officer was out again Monday making sure there was nothing to be concerned about. The Mille Lacs County Sheriff's Office, Lorge said, did not receive any 911 calls from the lake Sunday or Monday.
Additionally, Guida said resort workers set out with food and backup propane to make sure those stranded had what they needed.
One of the biggest issues Guida noticed was the case of a mother in a rented fish house at Barnacles Resort with her 4-month-old baby, unable to get their car back through the snow.
"When they were told to leave, they didn't. They were advised not to go out very far, and they went out pretty far," Guida said. "And they were out there in a car, just a whole bunch of silly things that occurred."
Despite the many anglers trapped in their fish houses overnight, Guida said there wasn't a "super hyper crisis emergency" situation many may have made it out to be.
"It was no different than you being at your house getting stranded, except you weren't free to move about," Guida said. "There were some people that were upset to the nth degree because they paid money to go out on a lake road that was maintained and that they weren't out immediately."
By 8 p.m. Monday, Guida said nearly everyone who needed to get off the ice did so, with a couple stragglers left in their fish houses but aware resort workers were on their way.
Barnacles Resort had four vehicles out plowing, Guida said, though 7 or 8 miles of road is a lot to plow when the snow is packed together as much as it was.
"The resorts had a heck of a job to do," he added, "and they did very well."
Lake of the Woods
Meanwhile, rescue efforts were ongoing Monday on Lake of the Woods to reach several anglers stranded after blizzard conditions Sunday blocked ice roads plowed up to 20 miles or more out on the lake, the Northern Light Region newspaper in Baudette reported on its Facebook page.
Resort workers, assisted by Lake of the Woods County sheriff's deputies, were working since Sunday morning to reach snowed-in anglers, the newspaper reported.
Lake of the Woods County Sheriff Gary Fish told the Northern Light Region on Monday afternoon that dozens, and possibly more, people remain stranded on the lake that plow trucks had not been able to reach.
Deep snow and slush, which forms from the weight of snow forcing water up through cracks in the ice, were making access difficult.
Fish also confirmed to the newspaper four anglers missing and unaccounted for as of noon Monday were found by midafternoon. Other anglers had been in touch with resorts or family members via cellphone, the Northern Light Region reported.
"It's a real mess," Fish told the newspaper, adding he'd flown over the lake in a helicopter brought in to help with the search. "The good news is that we're seeing signs of life everywhere. People are out shoveling. No one is running out of the houses waving us down."
Fish also told the newspaper he knew of at least a few plow trucks that became stuck in the drifted snow and slush on the lake and rescue efforts likely would continue into Tuesday.
Forum News Service contributed to this story.