After a day of drenching, Twin Cities commuters are seeing slow going this morning as a snowfall of perhaps a handful of inches begins to take hold.

According to the Minnesota State Patrol, as of 6 a.m. there had been 84 crashes on state highways, with 71 coming in the metro area.

On major metro area freeways as of 7 a.m., lane markings were invisible under the snow. While roads weren't icy, they were rutted in spots. The top speed on Interstates 494, 394 and 35W was about 35 mph.

Today's commute could very well be the worst of the season.

The Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service measured 0.51 inches of rain just before 9 p.m. Tuesday, the most in a single day since Oct. 12, and more precipitation than fell in January, November or October. It pushed the Twin Cities February precipitation total slightly past normal (0.79 inches), the first above-normal monthly reading since July. In Minneapolis, many intersections were narrowed by curb-deep puddles.

The Twin Cities has not had a single snow emergency this winter. Minneapolis generally requires a 4-inch snowfall and St. Paul 3 inches before invoking parking restrictions. That appears unlikely with this storm.

But a mix of rain, snow, sleet and ice aggravated by wind made for treacherous driving on many roads in the state Tuesday, with a repeat expected today.

State road crews were out in force on Tuesday and are expected to remain on the job through at least this evening, Barnard said.

Early storm predictions had called for perhaps a foot of snow in the Twin Cities. But as the storm moved closer to Minnesota, warm air moved farther north, resulting in the mostly rainy Tuesday in the southern part of the state.

That disappointed some people, said Jim Taggart, National Weather Service forecaster in Chanhassen. "But do you know who's happy? The farmers. It doesn't matter whether it's snow or rain."

Snow lovers can go north to Duluth, where about 10 inches was expected to fall. "A lot of little kids are going to wake up here and are going to be looking for a snow day," Steve Gohde, of the National Weather Service in Duluth, said on Tuesday night.

The National Weather Service predicted up to more than a foot of snow across central Minnesota, from Fergus Falls to Duluth, by Wednesday afternoon. Between there and the northern edge of the metro area, along a line from Morris to St. Cloud to Rice Lake, Wis., 6 to 12 inches of snow is likely.

Impact outstate

School districts in western Minnesota, along with the University of Minnesota, Morris, closed early Tuesday, and the mayor of West Fargo, N.D., indicated city offices would be closed Wednesday.

St. Cloud, meanwhile, declared its first snow emergency of the season, before even a flake had fallen.

"We can't sit around and wait," said Gerald Kaeter, director of operations and maintenance for St. Cloud. "Nobody's going to know if I post it when we have three inches, if it's the middle of the night."

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646 Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788