Strong winds on Monday forced planes en route to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to queue up in the skies over the north and northwest metro while waiting for clearance to land on a runway that is seldom used.

Southerly winds blowing between 25 and 40 mph throughout most of the afternoon and into the evening forced air traffic controllers to shift arrivals to the north-south Runway 17, an extremely rare occurrence, said MSP Airport spokesman Patrick Hogan.

Though the runway is sometimes used for departures, "we almost never land on 17," Hogan said.

Arrivals generally land on the east-west runways that run parallel to Terminal 1. But steady winds blowing from the south created too much of a crosswind for jetliners to land safely on those runways. Operations were moved to Runway 17, with planes landing from the north.

The strongest wind gust at the airport was 46 mph at 1 p.m., the National Weather Service said.

With the switch in operations, aircraft were directed to the northwest metro to begin their approach to MSP. That meant people in cities such as Rogers, Elk River, Maple Grove, Coon Rapids and Ramsey unaccustomed to seeing heavy air traffic saw more planes in the skies than usual, Hogan said.

The change in flight pattern sent more aircraft over downtown Minneapolis and Richfield and provided for primo jet watching for aficionados.

"I love 17 arrivals," Claire Avitabile wrote on Facebook. "We've been sitting on the front porch on Cedar Avenue enjoying the rare show."

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768