The Christmas Storm of 2009 was easier to swallow because it came in digestible bites, meterologists said.
Although three-day snow totals topped a foot in Fairmont (16 inches) and North St. Paul (13 inches) and neared 2 feet in Duluth (22 inches), and nearly 1,000 metro-area households lost power and more than a 1,000 vehicles wound up in ditches, the general consensus by Friday seemed to be: "That wasn't so bad."
And it shouldn't get too much worse.
"We're in the winding-down phase," said meteorologist Tom Hultquist of the National Weather Service in Chanhassen. He said a couple more inches of snow could fall through Sunday. Temperatures are expected to drop out of the 30s and back down below freezing, which could lead to slippery sidewalks and mall parking lots the day after Christmas. But well-salted highways should fare OK.
The storm came in two distinct waves, which authorities say helped make cleanup easier. And temperatures in the 30s made the Christmas Eve dump wetter and heavier as it mixed with rain and sleet.
"Really wet snow doesn't stack up," Hultquist said. "I think we got lucky because it came in two different batches and people knew what to expect, and that made it easier to deal with."
From the snowplow fleets in St. Paul to the low-stress Christmas at the airport, predictions of chaos turned out to be unwarranted.
In fact, St. Paul officials said they towed a grand total of one vehicle during their snow emergency.
"We didn't want to be a Grinch," said John Maczko, St. Paul city engineer.
With all the colleges in St. Paul closed for Christmas break and many people traveling for the holiday, officials decided to lighten up on their tagging and towing. "And we got good compliance from people, so things went real well," said Kevin Nelson, a St. Paul street maintenance engineer. "We have no plans for redeclaring a snow emergency."
Next time, he warned, tagging and towing will resume at its normal pace. Nelson said a holiday snow emergency usual adds about a $100,000 in holiday pay to the roughly $500,000 it costs to plow St. Paul streets. "But the money we saved not having to pay taggers probably offset that," Nelson said.
Minneapolis waited a day longer than St. Paul to declare that its streets needed plowing. Mike Kennedy, a Minneapolis transportation director, said budget concerns were not a factor in waiting. He said forecasters predicted up to 7 inches of snow Friday in Minneapolis, so the city decided to wait for the storm and holiday to end before starting its three-day plowing effort. Like St. Paul, that costs about $500,000, Kennedy said, adding that Minneapolis officials feared there would be compliance problems because of the holiday.
At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, both parallel runways were open and things were "in good shape" Friday and should continue running smoothly today, said Pat Hogan, airport spokesman. Average delays were 15 minutes or less, he added, and the wet, sticky snow hadn't adhered to the runways. Some flights were cancelled, mostly planes that were headed to areas still being hit by heavy snow or coping with its aftermath, Hogan added.
The State Patrol reported the state's second fatality since the series of storms began earlier this week. A 34-year-old Fergus Falls man died in a head-on collision on icy roads in Becker County on Christmas Eve. Robert W. Krensing was a passenger in a 2001 Chrysler Town & Country. His wife was driving and three of his children, ages 3, 7 and 11, were in the car when it collided with a Dodge Caravan that crossed the center line on a curve about 5:30 p.m. on Hwy. 34. The minivan driver and the rest of Krensing's family were not seriously hurt.
Although roughly 1,000 metro-area houses lost power at some time over the past couple of days, by 5 p.m. Friday, Xcel Energy reported only 11 homes were without power. And the Holiday Lights in the Park show at Lake Phalen in St. Paul was canceled Friday night but is expected to blink back on tonight.
Driving conditions were challenging across the state Friday, although authorities said that so many people were hunkered down with family, it reduced problems. The worst spots tended to be in the corners of the state, with westbound Interstate 90 closed at times because of drifting snow in the southwest corner or the state, while Duluth and the North Shore of Lake Superior had some weather battles.
Mike Stewart, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Duluth, said heavy snow was falling much of Friday and winds were clocked at 35 to 45 miles per hour off Lake Superior.
"We have blizzard conditions with less than a half-mile of visibility, and the roads are not good," Stewart said. "Some rain on top of snow has made for really slick conditions and, all around, it's not good."
The Minnesota Department of Transportation reported 74 crashes between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday with 11 injuries and 265 vehicles going off the road. Forty-nine of those crashes, nine injuries and 144 of the vehicles off the road occurred in the nine-county metro area.