Minnesotans bundled up and shoveled out Saturday in the wake of the season’s first snowstorm, which on Friday dumped heavy snow across the northern, western and central parts of the state and abruptly ended the Twin Cities’ record-setting growing season.
Roads were still snowy and icy north and west of the Twin Cities, traffic authorities warned. The State Patrol continued to respond to many spinouts and crashes on Saturday, particularly north and west of the Twin Cities.
Across most of the metro area, snow depths were light or nil. But high winds continued to buffet the region, knocking down branches and even trees in some areas.
When, on Friday evening, the temperature dropped to 32 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for the first time since April 12, it marked the end of this protracted, balmy autumn.
The late-arriving metro-area frost also handed 2016 a record for the longest growing season ever recorded here, according to the National Weather Service. The longest previous one was in 1900, when the temperature didn’t fall to 32 till Nov. 7.
And autumn isn’t coming back. Saturday will feel frigid, with the high in the Twin Cities area not even expected to break 30. And more snow is coming next week, just before the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, according to the Weather Service.
In much of the metro area, Friday’s precipitation fell as rain or slushy snow that melted on the roadways. But to the north and west, it was a far more wintry picture, with a bona fide blizzard in some areas, featuring heavy snow and howling winds.
Even after snow stopped falling late Friday, roads remained treacherous in those areas, highway and weather officials warned.
More than a foot of snow was reported near Park Rapids, and several inches of snow and slush accumulated on highways from Pipestone in southwestern Minnesota all the way into the Arrowhead region. Winds created whiteout conditions across western and west-central Minnesota, making travel difficult or impossible.
In north-central Minnesota, 4,000 customers lost power Friday as heavy, wet snow felled trees and lines, according to Crow Wing Power. The cooperative, which serves 37,000 people in Morrison, Cass and Crow Wing counties, shut its offices and pulled crews off the road.
“That was a historic decision,” said Crow Wing Power spokeswoman Char Kinzer. “We’ve never shut down like this in my 26 years here. ... Everyone is having to close, because it’s too dangerous out there.”
Additional crews will arrive Saturday to help restore power to customers.
More than 14,000 Xcel Energy customers lost power Friday most of them in the Montevideo, Granite Falls and St. Cloud areas.
Snow fell so hard in Baxter that firefighters were called out to hose off traffic signals at five intersections on Hwy. 371 after they became caked with snow and ice, said Deputy Chief Dave Cox.
State Department of Transportation officials advised motorists stay off the roads in western, north-central, northeastern and central Minnesota.
Many drivers who slid off the road or got stranded wished they had heeded that advice. In Stevens County, several found themselves stranded at a gas station in Chokio for much of the day at 50-mph winds blasted snow around and created zero visibility.
From 10 p.m. Thursday to 9 p.m. Friday, the Minnesota State Patrol responded to 447 crashes, including 52 with injuries and three fatals. One of the fatals was caused by the weather, the patrol said. Ler Gay, 42, of Fulda, Minn., died in a two-vehicle wreck on icy Hwy. 59 in Murray County in southwestern Minnesota.
School was canceled in many districts, including Alexandria, Brainerd, Dawson-Boyd, Eden Valley-Watkins, Melrose, Park Rapids, Sauk Centre and Willmar. The College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, both west of St. Cloud, also closed for the day. In the Bemidji area, schools that began on time let students go home early.
Now comes the cold
In a pattern familiar to longtime Minnesotans, sharply colder weather arrived on the heels of Friday’s precipitation.
In the metro area, Saturday’s high will be a mere 29, with partly cloudy skies and a brisk northwest wind making it feel colder. Saturday night’s low will be 20.
Sunday and Monday will be mostly calmer and less windy, but will stay cool, with highs in the 30s.
Rain and snow are expected to reappear Tuesday and last into Wednesday morning, although a daytime high above 32 may keep the accumulation down.
On Thanksgiving Day itself, it will be mostly cloudy, with a high near 40. Friday — a major shopping and driving day — will be nicer, with a high of 45 and sunny skies.
Staff writers Pamela Miller and Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report.