A winter storm moved across Minnesota Wednesday night, beginning delivery of what’s expected to be more than a foot of snow in the western and central parts of the state over the next two days.
In the metro area and parts of southeastern Minnesota, less snow was expected, with slush and rain dominating the forecast Thursday — followed by much colder weather. Overnight snow totals in the metro area were mostly in the 2-4 inch range.
The National Weather Service in Chanhassen issued a blizzard warning for a small part of west-central Minnesota, with a much larger area — from International Falls to Grand Rapids to Duluth to Hinckley, then southwest to Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Morris, St. Cloud, Willmar and Marshall — under a winter storm warning until noon Friday.
Heavy snow — 8 to 13 inches — was expected in those areas, with conditions to be made even trickier Thursday night, when winds gusting up to 30 mph will roar in. Travel will be difficult to impossible in some areas, the Minnesota Department of Transportation warned.
The storm was expected to spare much of southeastern Minnesota, including Mankato, Rochester, Albert Lea and Red Wing, a largely brown landscape with only an inch or two of new snow expected.
Early Thursday, MnDOT plows were busy across western Minnesota, where several inches had fallen, as well as in the metro area, where roads also were slick.
“Crashes and spinouts are piling up in the metro and road conditions are poor across much of western Minnesota,” the State Patrol tweeted at 10 p.m. Wednesday. “Slow down and give yourself extra time.”
Also pleading with drivers to “Slow down!” Chaska police posted a photo of a snowplow in a ditch, along with several cars.
In the Twin Cities, the outlook was for a sloppy mess. The metro was expected to see 2 to 3 inches of snow overnight Wednesday, with snow turning to rain after midnight and continuing through Thursday, said Eric Ahasic, an meteorologist in Chanhassen.
Then, on Friday morning, temperatures will plummet. “There could be some slick roads for Friday morning’s commute,” Ahasic said.
MnDOT was ready to “meet the storm,” said spokesman Kevin Gutknecht.
“We are generally at a good state of readiness for storms,” he said. “That means the salt sheds are full, the trucks are ready. The key is knowing when to start the 24-hour shifts, and that will depend on when the snow and ice begins.”
Storm will be ‘tricky’
In Minneapolis, the city will “adapt to the storm as it develops,” said spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie. The city’s Public Works Department deployed anti-icing vehicles Wednesday, placing brine on hills, curves and trouble spots throughout the city in anticipation of the storm.
Likewise, St. Paul city crews completed anti-icing all arterial streets and began treating residential streets with hills and curves on Wednesday, said spokeswoman Lisa Hiebert.
Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla said the transit agency began winter preparations right after the close of the State Fair, including equipping close to 1,000 buses with snow tires. In addition, sand is applied to light rail tracks during slippery weather.
The storm comes during busy holiday travel days at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The Transportation Security Administration expected to screen a record number of travelers during the Christmas and New Year holiday travel season.
Locally, the TSA predicts it will screen 5 percent more travelers compared to the same period last year. TSA predicted more than 45,000 travelers would be screened at MSP on Wednesday alone, compared with an average 38,000 daily travelers.
Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, said crews were preparing.
“This will be a tricky storm because the precipitation could come in a number of forms — snow, ice or rain,” he said. “Ice is always the biggest concern because we need to rely on putting the right amount of anti-icing chemicals down at the right time to prevent ice from adhering to runways and taxiways.
“A couple of inches of snow on both sides of the storm could cause a few delays, but we have plenty of equipment and personnel to clear the airfield,” he said. “Heavy rainfall could create visibility issues that can slow the rate of arrivals.”