I was in the news. Big ‘ol car pile up on the Bong Bridge due to fog occurred back on Thursday. I was interviewed about the weather conditions surrounding the incident. I will let the article do the rest of the talking…
NO VISIBILITY: Rare conditions turn fog into driving peril
NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Several unique weather conditions combined Thursday morning to create a freak fog bank that hovered over the Bong Bridge and contributed to a multicar pileup.
National Weather Service forecasters stationed near Duluth International Airport, atop the hill, didn’t see the fog along St. Louis Bay. But based on history, they explained what may have caused the problem.
First, a fairly common fog developed over the open waters of Lake Superior, said meteorologist Kurt Mayer of the weather service’s Duluth office. Very cold air blows over the moist air rising up from the warmer water, creating a steamy layer of fog that usually hangs over the lake.
On Thursday morning, some of that fog slowly moved over the frozen harbor and parts of Duluth and Superior, creating a stunning landscape view for commuters.
Mayer said a strong high pressure system over the Northland, coupled with very light winds, caused an air inversion to trap air near the surface and keep it from dispersing or mixing, as usually happens early each day.
As the sun rose, the layer closest to the ground warmed slightly, forcing out the foggy, cooler air at that level. But the air inversion kept the fog from completely dispersing.
Another band of fog appeared to hang about 100 feet above the surface — just at the height of the bridge deck. People at the accident scene said entrances to the bridge were completely clear. Only when they approached the highest, center span of the bridge did they hit a solid wall of fog.
By mid-morning, the fog had lifted from the bridge.
“What seems to have happened is that a layer of fog got trapped between warmer air above and below. It’s not all that unusual. But it’s a fairly unique situation to see it last very long,” Mayer said.
A similar situation happened on June 30, 1992, when a derailed train car, south of Superior, leaked benzene gas. An air inversion and light winds held the gas cloud close the ground, prompting evacuations of much of Duluth and Superior. Only when the inversion lifted and winds increased did the gas cloud completely disperse.
Air inversions often cause smoke, steam and exhaust to hang low in the air, creating hazy conditions and, occasionally, spurring air-quality warnings. Additionally, the Twin Ports’ unique geography, with hills trapping air below, contributes to the stagnated air conditions.
…and here is a more comprehensive article that gives a thorough background…
Fog blamed in fatal pileup
16-VEHICLE CRASH: A newborn baby died and seven were hurt Thursday morning.
NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
A newborn baby died and its mother remained in critical condition Thursday from injuries suffered in a 16-vehicle morning pileup on the fog-shrouded Bong Bridge.
Seven people were hospitalized as a result of the crash, which authorities called the worst in Minnesota in recent memory. Some veteran Duluth police officers and firefighters couldn’t recall a larger accident scene in the Twin Ports in more than two decades.
One other woman, a 34-year-old Duluthian, also remained in critical condition at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth. Names of those victims were not released Thursday.
Nineteen-year-old Stacy Caines of Duluth, who suffered a head injury, was upgraded to stable condition Thursday night in St. Luke’s hospital.
The newborn was delivered at St. Mary’s Medical Center after its mother was transported from the crash scene. The baby lived for about two hours before succumbing to its injuries, Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesman Kevin Smith said.
The baby’s name and gender, and the name of its 30-year-old Duluth mother, were not released. The mother was nearly nine months pregnant at the time of the accident.
Accident victims said they drove onto the Bong Bridge in sunny skies but hit a wall of fog partway across the bridge, striking vehicles they could hardly see even after the crash. The bridge sits about 130 feet above St. Louis Bay.
Police and firefighters described a scene of chaos, with vehicles jackknifed, crushed and pancaked and people screaming as paramedics and officers helped.
Emergency vehicles had difficulty reaching the accident site until other motorists not involved in the crash could back off the bridge.
Four other people were treated and released for injuries suffered in the crash.
The accident happened at about 8:15 a.m. in the Superior-bound lanes of the U.S. Highway 2 bridge, which links Duluth and Superior. Investigators said the bridge was not slippery at the time of the crash.
The entire span was closed until 4 p.m. as a Twin Cities accident investigation team worked at the scene.
Those at the scene said conditions were sunny and clear along the bridge approach, but fog enveloped the center span of the 8,400-foot structure.
Fog had hovered over Lake Superior and the Twin Ports after sunrise. It appeared to lift away from the ground as the sun rose, then it settled about 100 feet above ground. From the hillside, onlookers could see above and below the fog bank.
Fog alternately covered, then moved off the bridge deck, said Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Mark Baker, one of the first responders.
“It was pretty chaotic. The fog was moving in and out,” he said.
Smith said it appears there were three distinct accidents on the bridge within seconds as drivers unexpectedly drove into the fog. Three vehicles were in the first accident, three in the second and 10 in the third. The vehicles included three large trucks and 13 cars, vans and pickups.
“Dense fog is one of the contributing factors, if not the factor,” Smith said, adding that the fog was so thick that drivers involved in the pileup “couldn’t see what color the car they ran into was.”
Baker said anyone caught in a fog should not stop, but slow down and keep moving slowly ahead.
“One of the worst things you can do is stop, especially in a traffic lane,” Baker said, noting that vehicles behind might not be able to see the stopped vehicles.
Officials stopped short of pinning any of the blame on any one driver.
“I can’t make that call. I wasn’t there,” Baker said.
Smith said Thursday night it didn’t appear that grossly negligent behavior caused the accident. He also said it could take “weeks, if not months,” to finish a report on exactly what happened. The state patrol could issue citations then, Smith said.
Minnesota State Patrol Capt. Clarence Nylund said the fog was totally unexpected and unpredictable, noting officers didn’t notice it until they responded. He called it a “unique weather experience.”
Melissa Wicks of Duluth, a student at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, said she drove from sunshine into a pure white wall of fog.
“It was completely white. You couldn’t see anything. I saw the truck in front of me hit something. I couldn’t see what he hit, so I pulled over. I was completely stopped, then I got hit. Then, five minutes after it (the accident) happened, the fog completely lifted. It was the strangest thing.”
Wicks said she was luckier than the driver of a small car in front of her vehicle.
“He was hit once, then he tried to get out and (his car) was hit again,” Wicks said, adding that it appeared that the young man suffered neck pain but was conscious when he was taken away by ambulance.
“I feel really, really lucky sitting here looking around,” she said.
Because of the extent of the damage to the vehicles, many emergency responders said they were shocked more people weren’t hurt. Responders sheared the top off of a Chevrolet Astro van, which had been crushed in the wreck, to extract the victim. Another small car was crushed between a semi and other vehicles.
Officials said all of the injured were in their vehicles when they were struck.
Mark Nash of Poplar, Wis., was one of the first people to report the accident to emergency dispatchers. He was driving to Minnesota when the collisions occurred.
“I got a quarter of the way across the bridge, and I looked up, and all I saw was fog,” he said. “That fog just followed the bridge and followed the lakeshore all the way around. It was the most bizarre thing I had ever seen.”
Visibility dropped next to nothing when he entered the fog. As he neared Minnesota, he saw the accident in the Superior-bound lanes. First, he saw a white pickup truck, then a silver SUV.
“As I drove closer, I could see the semis and all the other vehicles,” Nash said. “In between two semis, one of which was jackknifed, there was a van that looked like an accordion. I didn’t want to block traffic and get hit from behind, so we kept going.”
Beth Johnson, spokeswoman for St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, said the emergency room there had received three adult patients from the accident, in addition to the baby. Mary Green, spokeswoman for St. Luke’s Hospital, said four crash victims were being treated there.
Duluth and Superior firefighters, Duluth and Superior police, the Minnesota State Patrol, Wisconsin State Patrol, multiple ambulances from Gold Cross and more than a dozen tow trucks responded to the scene.
Those treated and released from Duluth hospitals were Sean Elmquist, 25, of Superior; Mark Swanovich, 32, of Duluth; and Keith Levings, 32, also of Duluth. The name of a 36-year-old southern Minnesota woman who was treated and released was not immediately available to the Minnesota State Patrol.