A wide swath of Minnesota got a month's worth of snow in a day Saturday, bringing a heavy white curtain down on what had been a delightfully mild autumn.

The first snowstorm of the season roared into Minnesota on Saturday morning, snapping power lines, snarling traffic and piling up impressive depths of close to a foot in parts of the west metro area.

The street parking shuffles were a sure sign of the return of winter: Officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul declared snow emergencies that began Saturday night.

As of Saturday night, just over 44,000 Xcel Energy customers were without power in the Twin Cities, with a few thousand more blacked out elsewhere in Minnesota.

The storm lived up to the National Weather Service's enormous winter storm warning, which stretched from Iowa to the North Shore of Lake Superior, centered squarely on the Twin Cities.

By Sunday morning, the bulk of the storm will have blown through, leaving behind occasional flurries. But Byron Paulson, a meteorologist at the Weather Service's office in Chanhassen, said this fall's benign weather is "pretty much done."

Still, nature should lend some help to plows, shovels and snow blowers in removing the sloppy mess. High temperatures this week will range in the upper 30s to 40 degrees, with "just a few weak systems coming through Tuesday and Wednesday," Paulson said.

According to Greg Spoden at the State Climatology Office, this will probably be the biggest pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm for the Twin Cities since 1991, the year of the Halloween monster.

Saturday morning, snow was falling at a rate of as much as an inch an hour. Scores of flights into and out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport were delayed or canceled.

The storm led to hundreds of crashes on the roads. Limbs and entire trees buckled under the weight and dragged electric lines with them.

"We've gotten a ton of reports of tree branches coming down, taking power lines out," company spokesman Tom Hoen said. "As we get people back up, we get another half-dozen calls saying their power's out."

With the snow slightly easing Saturday afternoon, Hoen said that "the vast majority" of customers could expect to have power restored by midnight, but that some would remain in the dark until Sunday.

"This is just ridiculous," Hoen said. "It's an absolute nightmare out there."

Lots of fender benders

Winter did have the courtesy to arrive on a weekend, making it easier for people to heed warnings to stay off the roads. Still, the State Patrol had responded to 200 crashes statewide and assisted another 200 motorists who had slid into the ditch. No fatalities were reported, Lt. Eric Roeske said.

"Today is not the day to be in a hurry," Roeske said. "You need to allow extra time and lots of extra patience."

By early afternoon, the heaviest snowfall had hit Eden Prairie, New Hope, Mankato, Montgomery and Amboy, where 10 inches or more was reported. Nine inches had fallen in Minneapolis and Maple Grove.

Two first responders in an ambulance took time to help a motorist stuck on a slippery incline of Hwy. 7 just west of Hwy. 169 in Hopkins. Dressed only in their short-sleeve shirts, the two men stopped their ambulance and each got on either side of the stuck vehicle, pushing hard until the motorist could get traction. With a wave, they got back in their ambulance and were on their way, as was the motorist.

School officials at Minnesota State University, Mankato called off the home football game with the University of Minnesota Duluth because the field was unplayable. The football game between Gustavus Adolphus College and Carleton College was pushed back to Sunday at 1 p.m. in St. Peter.

What was ideal for snowmen and snowballs meant something quite different for people trying to move it out of the way. There was nothing fluffy about this stuff.

"It's like about 2 inches of water underneath," said David Rust, who for two hours Saturday had shoveled a half-dozen driveways for his townhouse association near Bassett's Creek Park in Minneapolis. He still wasn't half done. Rust said he got stuck with the task after the association's snowblower went out just before the storm. The replacement parts weren't set to arrive until Tuesday.

"Old Mother Nature, I thought you'd hold out for me," Rust said.

In north Minneapolis, LaToya Thomas struggled to heave massive clumps of snow from her parked car, while dodging others that dropped from the branches above.

"Ack! Not ready. Not ready. I looked out my window ... Oh, my God," she said, adding that at least her kids are enjoying it. Still, she said, it's November, in Minnesota.

"The day it was 70 degrees in November was when I thought it was the end of the world," she said. "It's the time of year for snow. Can't get mad."

Staff writers Abby Simons, Maria Elena Baca, Tim Harlow and Pamela Huey, and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184