We can't avoid it any longer; winter is finally knocking at our back door.

After a beautifully long fall, rain will give way to freezing conditions and snow this week, officially sending Minnesota into the throes of wintry weather.

Forecasters predict that Thursday evening's rainstorms will turn into the state's first big snow on Friday, sweeping along a band from southwest Minnesota to the Arrowhead region. Duluth could see as much as a foot, St. Cloud between 6 and 8 inches and Monticello around 4 inches, officials said.

"At the very least, Minneapolis will see its first flakes of the season," said Mike Griesinger, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Chanhassen.

The Twin Cities should expect its first freeze this weekend, about five weeks overdue. The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has recorded an average first freeze date of Oct. 7 since record keeping began in 1936, according to data from the Midwest Regional Climate Center.

"It comes to an end, most likely on Saturday," Griesinger said. "We may even have a day where it doesn't get above freezing." Temperatures shouldn't reach above the mid-30s this weekend, he said.

If all this holds true, then 2016 will smash the previous record of the latest freeze date (Nov. 6, 1958) by nearly two weeks.

Experts say it's difficult to pinpoint what might cause such a delay in a hard freeze. Griesinger said the jet stream kept cold air trapped in Canada, giving way to a persistent warm pattern and mild autumn.

Another factor might be the amount of precipitation Minnesota had this year, which saturated the ground for nearly four months straight. More moisture helps keep heat in the soil, said meteorologist Tony Zaleski.

In August, the Farmers' Almanac predicted that Minnesota would shiver through an especially frigid winter this year during "Polar Vortex, The Sequel."

But Star Tribune meteorologist Paul Douglas said the odds of this forecast coming true are less than 1 in 3, calling the prediction that far in advance more like a horoscope.

Douglas offered his own take: "Odds favor another milder-than-average winter, with fickle snow cover and fewer subzero nights than average."

In other words, don't assume you'll get to ski and sled more this winter.

Wednesday will round out the balmy season, with a shot at hitting a high of 60. Clouds appear Thursday and winds will increase before evening rains. Then Friday, expect at least a dash of the white stuff.

"Get your last round of golf in Thursday, if that's your thing," Griesinger said.