Those yearning for a white Christmas got their wish a few days late this year, waking up Tuesday to a blanket of fresh snow in the Twin Cities and points south. Motorists slogged through several inches of snow, plow drivers worked overtime and children broke out sleds for the first time.
Flakes fell steadily throughout the night, prompting warnings to remove parked cars from streets and make way for plows. By the time the storm let up Tuesday afternoon, depths varied across the metro area and were generally higher to the south, where half-foot totals were common.
In Mankato and other southern Minnesota cities, 8 to 12 inches fell, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
Minneapolis and St. Paul declared snow emergencies, meaning that vehicles parked on many streets need to be moved so plows can do their jobs. Those who don’t follow the snow emergency rules risk having their vehicles ticketed and towed to the impound lot.
Both cities get the word out via e-mail, texts, websites and social media. Even so, previous declarations have been followed by hundreds of car owners retrieving their wheels and ponying up payments for towing fees and fines.
Minnesota Department of Transportation crews pre-treated roads Monday, then dispatched more than 800 plows to clear 12,000 miles of roadway. Independent contractors were also working around the clock to clear commercial parking lots and residential streets.
Andy Suparat, one of six workers at Gara’s Lawn and Snow Removal, had been at it 15½ hours by Tuesday afternoon and he wasn’t quite ready to call it quits.
“[Jobs] pay the same whether it really hits or it doesn’t,” said Suparat, pushing a snowblower outside a business in Uptown Minneapolis. “But it snowed enough that we’ll have to hit every route twice.”
Bryant Hardware in south Minneapolis was having trouble keeping salt in stock, workers said. Salt, sand and stone grit had been flying off the shelves as people prepared for the storm and made last-minute purchases to clear icy sidewalks. Snow shovels and scrapers also were selling briskly Tuesday morning.
The scattered snowfall was enough to make roads slippery and cause headaches for motorists. By 8 a.m., the State Patrol and MnDOT road assistance units responded to numerous spinouts on the highways, despite lower traffic volumes due to the holiday break for many employees and schools.
Children flocked to higher ground to go tubing and sledding, including at a large hill overlooking Matthews Park in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood.
Families frolicked alongside 26 children enrolled in Rec Plus, a Minneapolis Park Board program for kids ages 5 to 12 before and after school and on school release days.
Organizers opted to play outside Tuesday instead of taking a planned field trip to Wooddale Funzone. Sleds were provided for kids who showed up, and they hit the slopes before heading inside for hot cocoa.
“[The kids] complained about the cold, but once they get sledding they’re fine,” said lead child care worker Austin Olson. “This is a highlight for them.”
Fifth-grader Toriah Mox, 10, surfed down the hill on a plastic purple sled before tumbling softly into a heap with her friends. “The hills are bigger at my grandfather’s house, but these are still fun,” she said with a giggle.
While major interstates were largely cleared of snow by Tuesday afternoon, the State Patrol tallied 350 crashes statewide and more than 300 incidents of vehicles sliding off the road or spinning out between 1 p.m. Monday and 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. There were 33 crashes with injuries, but no serious injuries or deaths, the patrol added.
At the snowfall’s most troublesome point, Metro Transit said about 25 percent of buses were running behind, with delays averaging about 4 minutes. Northstar trains heading in from the northwest and the Blue and Green light-rail lines in the metro were staying on schedule about 90 percent of the time during the heaviest snow.
Tuesday evening’s commute home was spared though, as transit lines had no major delays.
At the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where 5.5 inches of snow has fallen since Monday night, “we were fortunate that the heaviest snowfall occurred overnight, allowing us time to get the parallel runways cleared in time for the morning push,” said airport spokesman Patrick Hogan. “Due to continued light snowfall, we will have to close runways occasionally for clearing, but we don’t expect significant impacts today due to conditions at MSP.”
Hogan said airlines canceled a few dozen flights to and from the airport and that there were a few isolated delays, “but all in all, things are looking pretty good at MSP.”
The latest snowfall totals from the weather service include Lakeville in the south metro at 6 inches, Rosemount and Eagan with 6 inches, Prior Lake at 5.8 inches, and Burnsville at 7.5 inches. Creeping north, Maplewood reported 3.5 inches, St. Louis Park 3.7, and Minneapolis 3.3. St. Cloud got no snow.
In much of south-central and southeastern Minnesota, snowfall totals were much larger, the NWS said: Mapleton reported 12.5 inches, along with 12 inches in Fairmont, 8.5 in Albert Lea, 9.2 in Mankato.
After some light dusting Wednesday, meteorologists say no more snow is expected this week, with highs in the low- to mid-20s.
Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.