Think of the next few days as dress rehearsal for what is to come: winter.

A storm system, followed by Arctic cold, is expected to drop a total of 2 to 6 inches of snow in parts of the metro area by Thursday morning, much of it coming in occasional spurts of an inch or two. While it won’t mean revving up a snowblower, it likely will become a nuisance for some metro commuters as traffic slows, cars crash and congestion reigns. Commuters got their first taste of the wintry weather as snow fell in the late Monday afternoon, snarling and jamming traffic into the evening rush hour.

Things will get a little more serious in northern Minnesota, where up to a foot of snow may fall in a swath from Duluth to the Canadian border.

Three people were killed in traffic crashes as the storm began its move through the state, including a driver who tried to avoid a semitrailer truck that had jackknifed on Interstate 94 near St. Cloud and 82-year-old woman whose car slid across the centerline and collided with an oncoming vehicle on Hwy. 210 near Deerwood.

The Minnesota State Patrol identified the deceased truck driver as Terrence Cusick 42, of Fargo, N.D. Vera Hunt of Deerwood was the driver killed on Hwy. 210.

By the time the storm moves out of Minnesota, the freeze will move in with temperatures falling below zero by Friday with a high only of 3 to 5 degrees by afternoon, said Tony Zaleski, meteorologist with National Weather Service in Chanhassen.

Temperatures on Tuesday will hover in the mid 30s but then slip into the mid 20s on Wednesday and then “we start dropping off the cliff” by Thursday with morning temperatures ranging from 7 to 12 degrees, Zaleski said. By Friday morning, metro residents will get slapped with a real dose of cold: -6 and colder in the morning and eking up to a high of only 3 to 5 degrees later in the day.

Saturday morning temperatures fall even farther, to -7 and lower in some outer suburbs.

“Yeah, the hammer is coming down,” Zaleski said.