Minnesota has gotten an unusual Christmas Day storm — with possible thunder.
The Stearns County Sheriff's office reports that Interstate Hwy. 94 near Collegeville was closed earlier Sunday due to crashes because of icy conditions. The office is advising no travel in the area.
The National Weather Service has issued a freezing rain advisory in the metro area until 3 p.m. Sunday. Steadier rain will move in miidday with some mixed precipitation, the service said.
Metro Transit confirmed that sidewalks and roads are quite slick throughout the metro area. It said bus routes may have delays.
Forecasters are predicting Mother Nature will deliver thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening, after the freezing rain is expected to slow traffic on ice-glazed roads and cause some power failures throughout the state.
It will be only the third significant Christmas Day rain event in Minnesota in recent decades.
“It doesn’t happen often,” said Tony Zaleski, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen.
An ice storm warning is in place for the St. Cloud, Brainerd and Alexandria areas on Sunday, with about a half-inch of rainfall expected to hit central Minnesota. Parts of the state will be under a freezing rain advisory in the morning. And in the afternoon, the metro area is predicted to get almost an inch of rain, according to the National Weather Service.
Across the state, crews from the state Department of Transportation will put down salt on roadways as needed Sunday, and MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said the warmer weather will help ensure the salt works.
“Definitely, ice is going to be a problem for folks,” he added, suggesting that drivers give themselves extra time to get places and slow down.
The thunderstorm, which is expected to start after noon in the metro, will add more moisture on the snowpack, contributing to the potential of flooding this spring. Places like the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District are warning about flooding on streets in areas near the creek that winds from Lake Minnetonka to Minneapolis.
Adding to the bizarre, hazardous weather are strong wind gusts predicted Sunday and into Monday, reaching up to 30 or 45 miles per hour. Sunday’s forecast of 40 degrees falls short of the record high set for Christmas Day, which is 51 degrees set in 1922, a year residents celebrated the holiday with no snow and “springlike” conditions, according to the State Climatology Office.
On Friday, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) warned that ice on Minnesota lakes and rivers is quickly thawing due to the recent warmer weather, creating dangerous conditions for anglers, snowmobilers, skiers and others. Conservation officers across the state are reporting vehicles, snowmobiles and ATVs going through the ice on lakes where ice isn’t consistently thick.
This isn’t the first time the Twin Cities has had such late December weather. In 1982, heavy rains, thunder and lightning made for a slushy Christmas Day holiday, according to the climatology office. And 34 other holiday years have had zero snow.
Now this year, the rain and warmer weather is likely to turn ice rinks into puddles and shrink the natural snowpack, to the dismay of skiers and snowmobilers. But Minnesota will still hold on to its claim of a white Christmas, the first one since 2013 in the Twin Cities.
The ground just may not be snow-covered for long. “There may not be much left by Monday,” Zaleski said.
On Monday, drivers facing a commute or trek for any gift returns are likely to face slick roads after rain refreezes and temperatures dip.