Snow fell hard and fast across southern Minnesota as the state braced for up to a foot of snow on one of the busiest travel days of the year.
Snow totals in the Twin Cities metro area early Wednesday morning included 8.7 inches in Prior Lake, 7.8 inches in St. Paul and 7.5 in Eagan.
The disruptions began early Tuesday evening, as travelers tried to beat the storm out of town, schools canceled classes, and residents hunkered down for what may well be one of the state's largest daily November snowfalls to date.
"It's going to be one of those where you just wake up in the morning and see 9 inches of snow," National Weather Service meteorologist Caleb Grunzke said Tuesday night.
Blinding snow was falling in southern Minnesota, where 12 inches or more was predicted to accumulate before the storm moves on, with high winds accompanying the season's first major blast of winter.
Officials warned people to take the onslaught seriously — advising motorists to stay off the roads until winds die down.
Snowplows were out in force Wedneday morning, utility crews were on standby and extra state troopers were on call to help.
The storm arrived as thousands of Thanksgiving travelers were flying in and out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where they waited in long lines to catch their flights.
Twenty-four flights out of the airport were canceled Tuesday, some likely due to bad weather from the same storm front.
"Luckily for us, they're predicting most of the snow to fall overnight when we have very few flights," airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said Tuesday night. "So we'll be able to get out on the runways and work through the night to clear the snow off as much as we can before flights go out in the morning."
Wednesday is usually the busiest travel day before Thanksgiving, with up to 44,000 passengers expected to clear security at the airport's two terminals, about 20% higher than normal, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
Officials said they expected the airport to be fully operational, but noted people should stay in contact with their airlines to verify flights.
The predicted snowstorm prompted the airport's dominant carrier, Delta Air Lines, to issue travel waivers allowing travelers to make one-time changes to their flights without having to pay a change fee. American, Sun Country and Southwest Airlines followed suit.
Multiple cities had declared snow emergencies by Tuesday evening, when a camera on a Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) plow showed snow already covering roads west of Marshall, Minn., and several schools, including the St. Paul Public Schools, the University of Minnesota and University of St. Thomas, pre-emptively canceled Wednesday classes.
Minneapolis schools were already supposed to be closed Wednesday, but an all-day child-care program expected to remain open has now been canceled.
Road conditions were deteriorating quickly. The State Patrol reported nearly 100 crashes with seven injuries and almost 50 spinouts statewide as of early Tuesday evening. Most roads were completely snow-covered and visibility was poor.
MnDOT said it was prepared. It had readied its 800 plows with salt and ice-melting chemicals, and 1,800 drivers were prepared to hit the roads. And Xcel Energy announced it will deploy utility crews to manage expected outages and downed power lines from high winds and blowing snow.
For those who still opt to drive despite the storm, Lt. Gordon Shank of the Minnesota State Patrol reminded them to turn headlights on, clear snow off vehicle windshields and roofs, give plenty of distance between vehicles, and drive for the conditions on road, not the speed limit. Over the past five years, the patrol has responded to 80,000 crashes attributed to snow and ice. Those led to 20,000 injuries and 200 deaths, he said.
By Tuesday evening, multiple cities from Brooklyn Park to Bloomington to Faribault had declared snow emergencies that would take effect overnight and were encouraging residents to review those rules.
In St. Paul, motorists can call 651-266-PLOW (7569) for a recorded message or look for a posted message at stpaul.gov/snow. In Minneapolis, the snow emergency hotline is 612-348-SNOW (7669) and information will be posted at ci.minneapolis.mn.us/snow/.
Those who depend on public transportation should brace for delays, as well. Metro Mobility, the on-demand, door-to-door service for people with disabilities, said Tuesday it will operate during the storm, but service times could be affected and riders should consider canceling nonessential trips through noon Wednesday.
Nationally, AAA predicts more than 55 million travelers driving 50 miles or more this Thanksgiving.
Some 31.6 million people are expected to take to the skies for holiday travel between Nov. 22 and Dec. 3, according to Airlines for America, an industry group. Beyond Wednesday, Sunday is expected to be the busiest day, with 3.1 million people flying nationwide — a single-day record, if realized.
For fliers, the skyway checkpoint connecting Terminal 1 (Lindbergh) with the InterContinental Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport Hotel will be open, after being shuttered due to low passenger volume. Officials with the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which owns and operates the airport, raised a ruckus about the closure with the Transportation Security Administration, which relented last week and reopened it from 4:45 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily, accommodating hotel guests and other passengers with only carry-on bags.
Airport officials advised travelers to check flight schedules before leaving home and arrive two hours before domestic flights or three hours before international trips.
The Twin Cities' last big November snowfall was on Nov. 13, 2010, when 7.7 inches piled up at the airport, the official reporting station for the metro area. This storm will likely surpass that, the NWS predicted.
The storm could also put 2019 in the record book as the wettest year ever. The Twin Cities is just 0.29 inches of precipitation shy of the record. In 2016, the record wettest year so far, the Twin Cities saw 40.32 inches of precipitation.
The prospect of heavy, wet snow made for brisk business Monday at North End Hardware. "Here comes another one," said Shane Larson as a customer rolled a snowblower into the shop at store at N. Penn and Lowry avenues in Minneapolis.
Customers who last week were snapping up rakes and leaf bags streamed into the store to buy shovels and get their snowblowers fixed. Nathan Timm, of north Minneapolis, waited too long.
"I put it off all summer," he said. "I hope it misses us."
That's doubtful. The Weather Service said another system could arrive Friday with more snow possible Saturday night into Sunday.
Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.