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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: UMD student remains critical after hours in sub-zero temps

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University of Minnesota Duluth sophomore psychology and sociology major Alyssa Jo Lommel remains in critical condition after she was found unconscious on a neighbor's porch, having spent up to nine hours outdoors in 17-below-zero temperatures. U-M-D vice chancellors Lisa Ann Erwin and Mike Seymour have released a joint statement, not only encouraging students to reach out to student health services for counseling and support but also promoting campus safety in extreme cold. They and the UMD Police Department are advising people to travel in groups, let others know where and when they will be traveling, and to check in with friends and family.

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Xcel Energy will start increasing the power output at Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant within a month. The increase from 600 megawatts of power to 671 follows the approval of federal regulators of the plan. Xcel Energy officials say the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still considering a request for more operator flexibility, and that will need to be in place before the plant hits the full 671 megawatts. Monticello is about 40 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

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19-year old Erica Clark of Dilworth says she couldn't believe it when she stumbled upon a large amount of money yesterday(tues) afternoon outside a Moorhead fast food restaurant. Erica called her father, unsure of how to return the $2,800. He drove her to the Moorhead Police Department. That was the moment, Lieutenant Tory Jacobson says, his day was made. The money belonged to a Moorhead man who had dropped it on his way to buy a truck. He was surprised to get in back. Erica will meet the man today so he can personally thank her.

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The goal is to have all children ready to learn when they reach kindergarten, and one way improvements are being made is with a scholarship fund set up by the last Legislature, to enroll more low-income children in high-quality early learning programs. Jane Ellison of the Access Project in Greater St. Cloud says another part of the effort is aimed at getting more immigrants working in the field of early childhood education. The Access Project is funded through a grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, as part of its statewide Growing Up Healthy initiative. Research shows that quality early childhood development sets the stage for success in school and later in life.

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Moorhead's new Sanford clinic is nearing completion. The $17 million dollar campus, is set to open March 3rd. It will be almost three times the size of the current Moorhead clinic and will serve up to 70,000 patients a year. The campus will focus on six specialties, ranging from from family medicine to behavioral health.

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A new bus route on Highway 12 between Willmar and Litchfield in western Minnesota is expected to begin operation in February. Dubbed the Highway 12 Route, the system will be especially helpful to senior citizens and other individuals who live along the highway and receive medical care, adult day services or participate in other programs in Willmar or Litchfield. Kandiyohi Area Transit buses will make morning, afternoon and evening runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The new program is a partnership between KAT and Meeker Public Transit.

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Dangerous wind chills are possible this (Wed) morning across a wide swath of Minnesota, with a wind chill warning in place from Brainerd to the northeast and a wind chill advisory affecting the rest of the state. Temperatures have been dropping since midnight, and blowing winds mean already below zero air temperatures will feel as cold as 35 to 45 below. It's not expected to warm up much during the daytime hours and the National Weather Service in Chanhassen says that dangerous wind chill conditions will persist throughout the day and into tonight (Wed). Health officials warn that it's cold enough that frostbite could begin to effect exposed skin in as little as ten minutes.

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Snowplow operators in the state are looking forward to a slight warmup later this week. MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht says cold temps prevent salt and other chemicals from melting ice on roadways. He says it will help if, in addition to temperatures going up, that the sun shines to warm up the pavement a bit. Gutknecht says crews are using under-belly plows to scrape the ice. The heavy, wet snow last week was packed down by vehicles and then froze to roadways.

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 General Motors has a new C-E-O, Mary Barra, the first woman to head an automaker -- and she takes over from Mankato native Dan Akerson. This past May, Akerson told young women in the Mankato West High School graduating class that their boundaries are unlimited. Akerson said in his lifetime he's been "unbelievably privileged" to meet great people, including the head of Germany and the head of Korea -- both women. He told graduates that would have been unthought of, back when he graduated from Mankato High school in 1966. Akerson retired early from General Motors because his wife is fighting cancer.

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Two Otter Tail County residents, Penny Fick and Bill Fick, have received one-year suspended jail sentences and will have to pay several thousand dollars restitution after pleading guilty to animal mistreatment. Misdemeanor charges were filed after authorities found dead and malnourished horses at a property near Vergas last February. Penny Fick told the court she was in Montana and left �n irresponsible person" -- her son -- in charge of feeding and watering the animals. A truckload of hay was delivered to the farm but was not fed to the animals. Her son, Billy Tompkins, was sentenced in September for one gross misdemeanor count.

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Americans are getting healthier and Minnesota is ranked the third healthiest state in the annual America's Health Rankings report, out today. The study finds improvements in more than two-thirds of the areas measured. Fewer people are smoking, there's a significant drop in physical inactivity, and a leveling off of the obesity rate. The report says this is the first year since 1998 that obesity did not increase Hawaii is home to the healthiest Americans, followed by Vermont, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Mississippi is ranked at the bottom.

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