Welcome back, winter! Minnesota clobbered by 16 inches of snow

  • Article by: JIM ADAMS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 10, 2012 - 6:32 AM

The storm brought beauty, but also many accidents, including one fatal crash. Snow emergencies declared.

Minnesotans are awaking to a transformed landscape, a wintry wonderland courtesy of Sunday's all-day snowstorm.

Up to 16 inches of snow had fallen in the Twin Cities by Sunday night, and National Weather Service forecasters predicted that a couple of more inches might fall overnight. Late Sunday, Ham Lake had 15.2 inches of snow, and Columbus Township, also in Anoka County, reported 16 inches, the Weather Service said. Hugo had 15.8 inches. Chanhassen, Excelsior and Burnsville all reported about 12 inches. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport got 10.2 inches.

Hundreds of accidents were reported across the state, most without injuries, but one fatal crash occurred in southeastern Minnesota. More than 150 flights were canceled, and Metro Transit buses plowed through the snow, late in many cases. Many roads, especially in rural areas, were closed or impassable.

The sun will shine again Monday, but cold and gusty winds will bring fresh challenges. The high in the Twin Cities won't rise above 10, forecasters said.

Also likely to follow the storm is a nasty flurry of car-towings as residents of many metro-area cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, struggle to cope with or in some cases neglect newly declared snow emergencies, with their seemingly complicated parking rules.

Sunday's storm came as "kind of a shock to our system, as we hadn't seen much snow for the last few years. It was relatively snowless last winter," said Bill Borghoff, a meteorologist at the Weather Service's Chanhassen office.

The steadily rising snow totals were a sharp and early contrast to last winter, when the deepest single-day snowfall in the Twin Cities was 4.2 inches on Dec. 3. The heaviest one before that was 13.8 inches on Feb. 20-21, 2011.

Winter 2010-11's greatest snowfall was 16.3 inches on Dec. 11, 2010 -- the day the snow-burdened Metrodome roof collapsed. On Sunday, as the Vikings beat the Bears 21-14, Dome officials blasted hot air onto the roof to melt some of the snow and prevent a repeat performance.

Sunday's storm was fiercest outstate. Blizzard conditions in southwest and west central Minnesota made visibility so poor that the state Department of Transportation pulled its snowplows off the highways about 3 p.m. to await improved conditions, according to agency spokesman Kevin Gutknecht. Parts of Interstate 90 were closed.

"With the wind picking up, and blowing and drifting snow, our operators can't see the road," he said. "It's not safe to operate, so we pulled them off. This would be a good afternoon or evening to hunker down and maybe do some online shopping."

All day, authorities implored drivers to get off the road. By late Sunday afternoon, people appeared to be getting the message, because dispatcher-assistance call volume had decreased, according to Lt. Eric Roeske of the State Patrol.

As of 6 a.m. Monday, 637 crashes had been reported statewide, with 63 involving injuries and one fatality, Roeske said. Almost 1,140 spinouts and slides off slippery roads also were reported, he added.

The fatal crash occurred about 12:30 p.m. in southeastern Minnesota's Goodhue County as heavy snow fell. Details were sketchy Sunday evening, with the State Patrol saying that at least one person was killed in a crash involving a semitrailer truck at the Wacouta Road turnoff along Hwy. 61 south of Red Wing.

Northwest Minnesota was getting a frigid blast Sunday night, with temperatures well below zero in places like Roseau and Warroad.

Work day may bring woes

All day Sunday, an army of snowplows worked to clear the foot or so of heavy snow off highways, ramps and bridges in the Twin Cities to prepare for Monday commuters.

Still, "it could be a challenging commute [Monday]," Gutknecht said. "You should plan now to leave earlier and look at alternate routes."

Morning motorists can check traffic reports on the radio or online at 511.org, which has maps and road condition information organized by region, he said.

Late Sunday, many school districts in rural areas were already announcing that they'd delay Monday openings. Parents were advised to check with their school districts before sending kids out to bus stops early Monday.

Air travel is likely to be back to normal Monday as skies clear.

More than 150 flights at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport were canceled Sunday, said airport spokesman Pat Hogan. Delta Air Lines, the airport's dominant carrier, said travelers through the Twin Cities and Duluth can re-book their flights without charge.

Among the inconvenienced fliers were members of the University of Minnesota men's hockey team, who had their flight from Colorado to the Twin Cities diverted to Omaha. The Gophers were on their way back from a two-game series vs. Colorado College.

Northstar and light-rail services generally ran on time Sunday, Metro Transit reported. Buses struggled more, with about half of them lagging several minutes behind schedules for much of the day, the agency reported.

Snow emergencies

Snow emergencies were declared in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Plymouth, Bloomington, Golden Valley, Mendota Heights, Richfield, St. Louis Park, West St. Paul, St. Cloud and other cities.

Some Twin Cities residents may have forgotten what the rules are. Last winter, for the first time since 1987, Minneapolis declared no snow emergencies, and St. Paul called just one.

Staff writer Paul Walsh and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Jim Adams • 952-746-3283

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