On paper, it looks to be a Midwestern monster: a rare spring storm gripping states across the region with heavy rain, thunderstorms, dangerous winds and — yes — mouth-dropping snow totals.

In Minnesota? Brace yourself. Blizzard conditions may give last April's record-breaking snow a run for its money.

The National Weather Service expanded its winter storm watch Monday to include the Twin Cities, with the metro area possibly buried in 8 or more inches of snow by week's end.

Don't be fooled by Monday's springlike warmth.

"A lot of people are asking us if this is a joke still and this can't be real," said Brent Hewett, a meteorologist with the NWS office in Chanhassen. "It's going to happen, and it's going to be pretty bad."

Meteorologists predict the powerful storm will start Wednesday afternoon in the Twin Cities, close to the evening commute. A sloppy mix of rain and snow will shift to all white stuff sometime by early Thursday and continue throughout the day.

When exactly that shift happens and where the heaviest snow bands settle could be the difference between a spring annoyance and full-blown misery for parts of the metro.

Winds gust could reach 45 mph, stirring up blizzard conditions.

"If you have to go somewhere Thursday, I would probably try to stay home," Hewett said.

As of Monday, the hot spot for the heaviest snow appeared to be in southwest and west central Minnesota, Hewett said.

At this point, it's a coin toss on whether the metro area sees as much as a foot of snow, but whatever falls could come down rapidly, with 1 to 2 inches an hour possible.

"That's a lot for winter, let alone April," Hewett said.

A typical April brings about 3 inches of snow to the Twin Cities. The blizzard that hit the Twin Cities last April dumped about 15 inches in parts of the metro, shredding records for total snow in a single April storm.

The system heading this way now could spawn nasty thunderstorms from Iowa into Missouri and Illinois and drop snow in states farther north, including Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"It's going to pretty much impact all of the Midwest in some way or another," Hewett said. "It's going to be a shock to the system, that's for sure."

The finer points of the forecast, including the timing of the change from rain to snow and where the heaviest snow bands will stretch, will come into better focus Tuesday.

That's when the winter storm watch will likely get upgraded to a warning, Hewett said.

But in a winter that has already broken records, Minnesotans at least seem prepared for this latest round, he said: "I think everyone held off putting their boots and coats away."

The good news: The snow will at least keep flooding worries largely at bay.

On Friday, temperatures are expected to dip below freezing overnight, limiting the amount of snowmelt racing into rivers, Hewett said.

"We don't want to see a foot of snow, but it's certainly better for flood concerns," he said.

And by Friday morning, the storm will have slouched onward, leaving behind temperatures high enough to erase its white footprint within a few short days.

Early next week, grass should reappear underfoot.

Hannah Covington • 612-673-4751