A ferocious April blizzard that the National Weather Service called “historic” plowed across much of Minnesota on Saturday, dumping more than a foot of snow in some areas, causing hundreds of accidents and forcing the shutdown of the Twin Cities airport and many state roads.
For the Twin Cities, it marked the first time a blizzard has descended on the metro area since 2005, according to the Weather Service. Forecasters warned that the storm was expected to keep roaring well into Sunday, and end could bring snowfall totals in some areas near the record for April 14 set in 1983, when a storm ripped a huge gash in the Metrodome’s fabric roof, collapsing the fluffy top.
Flights in and out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport were canceled for much of Saturday. Just before 11 p.m., officials said a runway was cleared and reopened to allow the last remaining flight of the day to depart.
The storm also caused a cascade of cancellations of public events. Saturday’s and Sunday’s Twins games at Target Field against the Chicago White Sox were postponed. The Minnesota Orchestra canceled a concert, March for Science plans were scrubbed, and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter called off a major speech. Many stores and restaurants closed. The Guthrie Theater canceled its Saturday and Sunday productions, and churches by the dozens were canceling Sunday morning services.
Hundreds of crashes and spinouts were reported across the state. One fatality occurred late Saturday when a vehicle struck a pedestrian in Medina, but it was not clear if it was weather-related.
Saturday evening snow depths included these still-in-progress numbers: 19 inches in Canby, 14.5 inches in Montevideo, 13.8 in Minneapolis, 13 in Plymouth and 10 inches in Eagan. Another 3 to 4 inches are possible on Sunday.
St. Paul declared a snow emergency, as did many smaller metro cities. Minneapolis said it would not call one Saturday, but tweeted that residents should “check back tomorrow [Sunday] after more of the storm passes.”
“This system will rank up there as one of the most significant winter storms in some time,” read a Weather Service report early Saturday. Not long after, it declared the storm “historic.”
“This is certainly one of the more powerful [storms] in recent memory,” said Jacob Beitlich, a Weather Service meteorologist. “Any time you close a Twin Cities airport, it’s gotta be usually a pretty bad snowstorm.”
The storm began late Friday in southwestern Minnesota and grew in strength as it moved eastward Saturday, prompting expansion of the blizzard warning into metro counties and well eastward into Wisconsin. Wind gusts of up to 35 miles per hour were reported, making it tough to gauge how much snow had fallen by Saturday evening, Beitlich said.
Whiteout conditions like the ones that hit the Twin Cities on Saturday are few and far between, he said. “You just don’t see heavy snow in the … metro area with this kind of wind,” he said.
Then came the thunder. Residents in downtown Minneapolis and the southern part of the metro reported thunder, leading some on social media to dub Saturday’s storm a “thunderblizzard.”
Out and about
The Minnesota Valley Transit Authority called off all service, including its Metro Red Line, from 8 p.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Sunday. But Metro Transit trains and buses continued to run into the night, with some delays. In one case, a bus got stuck in the snow in Minneapolis’ Dinkytown and the driver spent a few minutes rocking it free, cheered on by riders.
Sheets of wind-driven snow blew across the fairways at Theodore Wirth Golf Course Saturday afternoon, making for “a perfect day” for a ski with friends, said Paul DelMain of Minneapolis.
As DelMain stood in the parking lot at the par 3 course in his boots and skis, the snow was already so deep that he and friend Eric Nelson didn’t need to worry about scraping the bottoms of their skis on the pavement of the unplowed lot. “If you want adventure in a blizzard and to be able to ski everywhere, then you’ve got it,” DelMain said cheerfully.
DelMain and Nelson were nearly alone at the park, which on a normal winter’s day is bustling with skiers.
“I’m frankly sick of it,” Nelson said suddenly, laughing. “But Paul gets me out. It’s fun to be out skiing.”
In southwestern Minnesota’s Brown County, where almost all roads had shut down, Deputy Matt Ibberson said blowing snow was expected to pick up overnight.
“This is the first time down here that all the roads closed this year,” Ibberson said. “It usually happens once a year.”
He said despite warnings to stay off the roads, some people were still out driving. He reported to work at 5 p.m. Saturday and by 6:30 p.m. had already rescued one stranded driver. He said he was trying to get to another but wasn’t sure it would be possible.
As for warnings and blockades, he said wryly, “You could put a pink elephant out there and people would still drive by it and not even care.”
A record ahead?
The weekend storm appeared likely to set a record for the highest recorded snowfall during a Minnesota April. The previous record — 21.8 inches — was set in 1983.
Monday and Tuesday are expected to be mostly sunny in the metro. However, snow reappears in the metro forecast early Wednesday and continues through that day and into the night.
As Prince once famously sang, sometimes it snows in April.
Staff writer Patrick Kennedy contributed to this report.