Soaked by rain, sleet and heavy, wet snow, Minnesotans faced one last storm day Friday before sunnier — if much colder — weather moves in.
In the Twin Cities metro area and to the south, Thursday’s steady hard rain was expected to turn into sleet, then snow, as temperatures fell overnight, creating an icy mess for Friday morning commuters. According to the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, the .76 of an inch of rain that fell Thursday in the Twin Cities set a rainfall record, breaking the old one of .7 set in 1959.
Road conditions across the state have been hazardous since Wednesday, resulting in at least one fatal accident that killed a Zimmerman woman and injured nine other people Thursday in Sherburne County.
Up North, the snowpack deepened. McGregor in Aitkin County reported 19.2 inches. Finland and Hovland, on Lake Superior’s North Shore, reported 18 inches, with 13 in Duluth, 13 in Bemidji, 12.3 in Brainerd, 11 in Moorhead, 5 in St. Cloud and 4 in Cambridge, according to the Weather Service.
Sites to the south received less snow, with 3 inches in Burnsville, 2.5 in Woodbury and Wabasha and 1.4 in Rochester. What they got was rain.
The metro area and much of the southeast remained a largely dreary landscape, with patches of gray and brown showing through the sludgelike new snow. Friday’s cold is likely to freeze huge pools of standing water in fields, parks, yards and sidewalks.
For southern Minnesota snow lovers, the storm was a soppy dud. Burnsville’s Buck Hill ski area closed all of its operations Thursday due to the heavy rain, and Welch Village shut its slopes down early. Cross-country skiers had little to work with, and ice fishing remained impossible on many state lakes and rivers.
But north and west, the storm was more picturesque — and more hazardous. A blizzard warning remained in effect for much of the Dakotas and part of Minnesota, including Fergus Falls, until Friday morning, the Weather Service said. A winter storm warning covered a large swath of northern, central and western Minnesota, from International Falls to Ely to Duluth, Bemidji, Hibbing, Brainerd, Hinckley, St. Cloud, Willmar and Marshall, with a less dire winter weather advisory closer to the Twin Cities.
Much of southern Minnesota remained under a hazardous weather advisory. In the metro, rain was expected to continue until 2 a.m. Friday, followed by sleet, then snow after 4 a.m. The wind will kick up after midnight, with gusts as high as 30 miles per hour. Overnight new-snow accumulation in southern Minnesota will be small — less than half an inch — but that’s plenty to make roads perilous, especially if the rain washes away road salt, the Minnesota Department of Transportation cautioned.
Friday’s daylight hours will bring a bit more snow to the metro, but the big news will be the cold. Temperatures will plummet to about 15 by 5 p.m., and gusty winds will make it feel much colder.
“There will likely be a lot of slick spots on the road surfaces throughout the day tomorrow,” NWS meteorologist Tyler Hasenstein said Thursday night. “The morning commute, especially, will be a little nasty given all this rain and then snow piling on top of that.”
Danger on the roads
The storm caused plenty of havoc on Minnesota roads.
Icy roads were blamed for a two-vehicle crash Thursday afternoon in Sherburne County that killed one person and injured nine others. According to Sheriff Joel Brott, a small bus and an SUV collided head-on at 3:10 p.m. on icy County Road 15 near County Road 83, east of Big Lake. Bus passenger Marilyn R. Balogi, 47, of Zimmerman, was killed. The bus driver and seven other passengers were taken to area hospitals, as was the SUV driver.
Statewide from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, the State Patrol responded to 167 crashes, 12 of them with injuries; 259 vehicle spinouts or vehicles off the road, and 13 jackknifed semis.
The patrol was seeking the public’s help in finding a semitrailer truck driver who took off after hitting a trooper’s squad car Wednesday evening on westbound Interstate 94 at Mounds Boulevard in St. Paul. The car’s emergency lights were activated and it was pulling up to the scene of a multivehicle crash about 9:25 p.m. when the semi sideswiped the squad. The semi is red and will have damage to its front passenger side, the patrol said.
The storm’s tricky nature — mixed elements of rain, sleet and dense snow — had road experts pulling out all their best tricks.
“These weather conditions … present a significant challenge,” Matt Morreim, street maintenance manager for St. Paul Public Works, said in an e-mail. “Unfortunately, typical pre-treatment street operations such as brining and salting are not effective with rain. Our crews will continue to be deployed … during the storm, and will begin salting and plowing as temperatures fall and rain turns to snow.”
Snowfall will taper off by midday Friday, but the cold will linger into Saturday, with a high of only 15 degrees in the metro, Hasenstein said.
But take heart — as least some sunshine, rare as gold this winter, is expected that day, as well as Sunday, when the high will climb to the low 30s.