The afternoon commute might not be as difficult as originally predicted as the metro area has escaped the brunt of a winter storm that has dropped snow, ice and freezing rain across the area.
But enough frozen precipitation has fallen in the metro to cover highways and freeways with a thin layer of ice to cause more than 135 crashes and 40 spinouts in the metro between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., leading to 11 minor injuries.
“Drivers still need to slow down and allow extra time,” said Lt. Tiffani Nielson, a State Patrol spokeswoman.
Nielson added that the call load was higher in the morning rush hours, when the sleet fell and the snow started.
Conditions across the metro varied from wet pavement to slush on the sides of roads with scattered slippery spots. Conditions were likely to get worse to the north of the metro, and roads in rural areas were likely to become more treacherous, she said.
The potential for icy conditions in the metro will remain into the afternoon as a winter weather advisory is in effect until late Tuesday. And once the precipitation ends Tuesday night, it was going to be much colder for the rest of the week, the National Weather Service said.
The precipitation was due to end in the metro Tuesday night, but was to continue later to the east, the National Weather service said. “Continue to exercise caution if traveling,” it warned.
Once snow and more stopped falling, it was going to much colder for the rest of the week. Temperatures will plunge, with a high of 19 for Wednesday, 10 for Thursday and barely past 0 for Saturday.
Early Tuesday, the mist-like precipitation was freezing rapidly on pavement and vehicles, so fast that some drivers reportedly were stopping on the side of the freeway to clear their windshields.
“It’s a good thing to have windshield fluids and wipers working properly today,” said Kirsten Klein, a Minnesota Department of Transportation spokeswoman. “And make sure your defrosters are on so ice does not build up.”
MnDOT has had plows out since the rain and snow began falling early Tuesday, and they will remain out until the snow has stopped and roads are dry, Klein said. The weather service is forecasting 1 to 3 inches for the metro area.
However, the freezing rain-snow mix is one of the hardest conditions to treat Klein said. It takes time for chemicals to melt through the ice before plows can scrape it off.
Until roads clear, “you need to give lots of stopping distance … That’s when people suddenly start hitting the brakes and spinning out and losing control.”
That might have been what happened on westbound I-694. A rolled over semitrailer truck blocked three lanes of traffic from just after 10 a.m. until the scene was cleared just before 1 p.m.
The wintry weather forced many schools in southwestern and west central Minnesota to delay the start of classes by two hours.
The weather service said that in west central Minnesota there could be freezing rain accumulation ranging from a few hundredths to a quarter of an inch of ice, and up to about an inch of snow.
Later Tuesday, strong northwest winds will develop in the area, which could make “travel nearly impossible on any roads that do not completely melt off ice,” the weather service said. The winds potentially could damage electrical lines and poles if they’re already coated with ice.
To the north, 3 to 5 inches of snow was forecast, with as much as 6 inches along the north shore of Lake Superior.