Minneapolis and St. Paul officials declared snow emergencies after a powdery snowfall Tuesday turned windswept highways and many motorists’ knuckles white in the Twin Cities and surrounding communities.
The drive home should not be as difficult as snow has tapered off, giving city, county and MnDOT plows a chance to catch up and get the roads cleared in the metro area. But MnDOT spokesman Kent Barnard warned motorists that “the roads will not be perfect.”
MnDOT was advising no unnecessary travel in southeastern Minnesota due to blowing snow and low visibility.
Snow that fell during the morning rush hour and compacted on pavement crippled the commute, and many motorists spent two and three times as long as usual in their cars. The slow-go had many motorists lashing out at MnDOT on social media for the poor road conditions and wondering where the plows were.
MnDOT sent 120 to 180 trucks out when flakes began flying around 3:30 a.m., said spokesman Kevin Gutknecht. The metro area has 5,500 lane miles and each plow covers roughly 23 lane miles.
“Trucks can only move as fast as traffic,” Barnard said. For motorists who didn’t see one, “the plow could be ahead or behind you.”
MnDOT even posted a video of plows on Interstate 694 on its Facebook page to show them in action.
Kayla Bromelkamp, a public affairs officer for Hennepin County, said 80 plows were out clearing 2,200 lane miles of county roads. She said they will remain active until conditions improve and are safe.
Drive times in the metro started out slow and only got slower throughout the morning, which started with several inches of snow that strong winds blew around.
Snowfall totals in and near the Twin Cities area generally were deeper north of the metro than south, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Stacy led the way with 5.3 inches, North St. Paul 5.1 and Oak Park Heights 4.8.
Just across the border, several Wisconsin communities saw even higher amounts across the board: 6 inches in Baldwin and Osceola, 5.2 in Hudson and 5 in Ellsworth.
The NWS said that gusts of 30 miles per hour were measured at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, with 29 mph bursts in Eden Prairie and 26 mph in South St. Paul, aggravating a snow-fed visibility challenge for the morning commuters.
School buses serving the St. Paul School District ran well behind schedule in the morning, according to a text message that families received from administrators.
Minneapolis and St. Paul declared the snow emergencies shortly before noon. Parking in Minneapolis will be banned on either side of snow emergency routes from 9 p.m. Tuesday to 8 a.m. Wednesday. The emergency peels back to just the odd-address number side of the street for the following 24 hours, then the even side for the 24 hours after that.
“In order for crews to plow streets completely, vehicles must be moved out of the way,” Minneapolis officials said in a notice. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to follow the parking rules so plows can do the best job possible, and folks can avoid a ticket and tow.”
The St. Paul declaration begins at 9 p.m. Tuesday on all night plow routes and then at 8 a.m. Wednesday on day plow routes.
Vehicles not moved in time will be subject to ticketing and towing. Similar emergencies have been declared in Plymouth, Robbinsdale and West St. Paul.
In western Minnesota, wind gusts well above 40 mph were reported, prompting several school districts to delay classes for two hours to give buses more time to make their rounds and for plows to clear the roads. Gusts also topped 40 mph in Rochester and other parts of southeastern Minnesota.
The tortoise-like commute lingered well beyond the typical 9 a.m. end of the rush as bumper-to-bumper traffic persisted on most major routes. Drivers in the east metro still needed more than an hour to reach downtown Minneapolis from Woodbury, while Interstate 394 drivers waited through a near standstill from I-494 to downtown Minneapolis.
Between 5 and 9 a.m., state troopers responded to 45 crashes in the metro area, and handled 90 instances of vehicles going off the road or spinning out.
MnPass sticker shock
Solo drivers looking to escape gridlock on eastbound I-394 faced an expensive option. Rates for using the MnPass lanes after 9 a.m. were maxing out at $8 to I-94 in downtown Minneapolis.
The snow was not a friend for transit riders, either. By 9:15 a.m., Metro Transit buses were running behind on nearly two-thirds of the routes, with the average delay being about 15 minutes.
Running on time were the Blue Line trains along the light-rail route from the Mall of America to downtown Minneapolis. However, Metro Mobility told its clientele of senior citizens that “you may experience longer-than-normal wait/ride times.”
Minnesota Valley Transit tweeted “Treacherous Traffic Tuesday! Thanks for your patience as our drivers do their best to get everyone to work safely this morning.”
At the airport, the boards were showing no delays or cancellations, according to spokeswoman Melissa Scovronski. However, she added, “I suspect, though, that the airlines likely did some precanceling. I think the most important piece for travelers is that they leave home earlier than usual because of road traffic.”
Temperatures were forecast to tumble throughout the day in the Twin Cities — down to the teens this afternoon and below zero Tuesday night. More snow is likely through Thursday as temperatures look to barely make double digits by Friday, the NWS added.