Twin Cities commuters are expected to experience another round of light snow early Friday evening after having a midday reprieve from the freezing rain and snow that slickened highways, freeways and side streets in the morning.
By about 5 p.m., metro drivers can expect light snow which should be off and on for several hours before tapering off after midnight, according to Joe Calderone, senior forecaster at the National Weather Service's office in Chanhassen.
The morning's mixed bag of snow, sleet, rain and freezing rain made driving difficult in western Minnesota where authorities shut down Interstate 94 in both directions between Fergus Falls and Alexandria for about 2 hours after icy conditions led to at least a dozen crashes, including three involving jackknifed semitrailer trucks.
The 50-mile segment of freeway reopened just after 9 a.m. In the metro area, roads remained mainly wet for most of the morning rush hour, but side streets and sidewalks were treacherous. Scores of people fell and sought medical attention for ankle, arm and wrist injuries. At least 15 people were treated at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.
"It was a rough morning for people walking on foot," said Christine Hill, HCMC spokeswoman. "A few had fallen and hit their head, and that is always concerning."
By noon, Allina Health had treated eight patients for falls -- six at United Hospital in St. Paul and two at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. Paramedics had responded to 20 slip-and-fall calls since midnight, said spokesman Tim Burke.
Lighter-than-normal levels of traffic helped ease Friday's morning drive to work, but rain that changed to snow in the northern metro just after 8 a.m. led to a rash of crashes as roads iced up.
A particularly bad stretch was on northbound I-694 in Oakdale where two semitrailer trucks collided at 50th Street. The freeway was closed briefly around 8:30 a.m. About the same time there were accidents at 40th Street and Hwy. 36. That prompted the State Patrol to urge motorists to slow down and use caution.
"That is the big message," said Jerimiah Moerke, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Roads in western Minnesota, including I-94, had been upgraded from difficult to fair condition by mid-morning, but a second round of snow was forecast to move in Friday afternoon. Saturday will be calm, dry and cool in the metro area with highs in the upper 20s, Calderone said. But another winter blast with significant snow is expected to hit late Sunday night and into Monday morning.
The weather service was uncertain just how much snow will fall, but "it's not going to be a dusting. It will be plowable," Calderone said. High winds that could create blizzard conditions also are expected to accompany the storm, which promises to complicate Monday's drive to work. "We have a pretty high confidence in that," Calderone said. "We are not going avoid this one."