Most of Minnesota was under a winter storm warning Saturday as the first major winter storm of the season bore down on the state.
The snow began falling Saturday morning across a large part of western Minnesota and quickly spread across the rest of the state. It was forecast to become heavy as the day went by, with accumulations of 6 inches in many areas to as much as 16 inches in some parts of east-central and northeastern Minnesota, the National Weather Service said.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation reported difficult driving conditions by midday across many parts of the state, stretching from south to north and west to east, including the Twin Cities. Interstate 94 between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul was moving very slowly.
The snow was mixing with sleet along the Interstate 90 corridor across southern Minnesota. Visibilities were down to a quarter mile in some areas due to winds gusting in the 20 mph range.
MnDOT reported 137 traffic accidents statewide between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. including 88 in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.
State Patrol Lt. Tom Schmitz said the best driving plan in this kind of storm is none.
"Obviously, we'd like to see them stay home, but if you do have to have to travel, don't put your schedule before safety," he said.
Schmitz advised drivers to take commonsense steps such as reducing speed, using headlights and seat belts and leaving plenty of room between vehicles.
"Just because it says 70 (mph) out there, if the weather conditions aren't favorable, don't drive that fast," he said.
By midday, snowfall amounts between 1 inches and 3 inches were common, including the Mankato, Faribault and Twin Cities areas.
Forecasters started warning about the impending storm several days in advance, giving residents and officials plenty of time to prepare.
Twin Cities residents made a mad dash Saturday morning to prepare to hunker down for the duration of the storm, stocking up on supplies at grocery and hardware stores.
"We've sold thousands of shovels today," said Larry Frattallone, whose family owns a dozen hardware stores in the Twin Cities area.
MnDOT said its plows were ready to roll from Albany to Zumbrota. The department has more than 800 snowplows at 150 stations throughout the state, including 18 stations in the Twin Cities area, and nearly 1,500 snowplow operators.
Twin Cities hardware stores put out plenty of shovels, sand and deicing salt.
Less snow was expected across most of extreme northern Minnesota, where a snow advisory was out from the Grand Forks area to International Falls and Ely, and 3 inches to 8 inches were forecast.
Highs temperatures were forecast to range from the teens in the far north and through the 20s in central and southern Minnesota.
The Federal Aviation Administration reporting no major weather delays at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by midday, though the storm had prompted the closure of the Des Moines International Airport for several hours after a United Airlines plane slid off a taxiway, and the FAA said delays for incoming traffic to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport were averaging over an hour.
Northwest Airlines said it would allow passengers planning to fly this weekend to rebook for a different date without penalty. The change applied to passengers flying to, from, or through Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Michigan on Saturday or Sunday. Passengers can rebook their travel for Nov. 30 to Dec. 4.
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