The heaviest wave of snow in this week's storm began sweeping across Minnesota Wednesday afternoon and was still expected to bring double-digit snowfall totals to much of the state before it's done.

While the storm had so far brought less snow than expected, the National Weather Service's message for Wednesday through Thursday morning was to stay home until the second wave ends.

Several state highways in southwest Minnesota - including I-90 between Worthington and the South Dakota border - remained closed Thursday morning due to blowing snow and very limited visibility.

"Alter your travel plans, and stay inside tonight," said meteorologist Ryan Dunleavy with the NWS in Chanhassen. "Conditions are only going to deteriorate, and it's going to get colder winds."

New snow total predictions were down for Wednesday night. By 9:30 p.m., the expected final totals ended on the lower end of what was deemed possible by the NWS, said meteorologist Mike Griesinger. But parts of western Minnesota were slated to get a walloping 15 or 16 inches overnight. The Twin Cities metro area was forecast to see a more modest 8 to 12 inches overnight, while northern Minnesota was in line for 12 to 18 inches.

Just south of Duluth could end up getting the state's highest snow totals because of snow coming off of Lake Superior, Griesinger added.

"Across the Twin Cities, there could still be locally higher amounts," Dunleavy cautioned.

Wednesday afternoon totals in the Twin Cities were not eye-opening, with the NWS recording 1.1 inches of additional snow between noon and 6 p.m. at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The storm had brought 5.5 inches of snow at the airport so far.

Northwest Rochester recorded 9 inches by 7 p.m. That area received higher totals than other spots such as Bloomington in the south metro, which reported 6 inches as of 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday afternoon brought gustier winds to the state, with some parts of western Minnesota expected to get 30 mph winds and gusts as high as 45 mph. The lowest wind chills will drop to 20 below, Dunleavy said.

Blizzard warnings remained in effect for most of western, west-central and southern Minnesota while winter storm warnings were up for the eastern side of the state, including the Twin Cities metro area.

The first part of the storm, on Tuesday, dropped between 2 and 6 inches across the Twin Cities and the Rochester area, the Weather Service said. But that amount, with the prospect of another foot or so of snow to come, was enough to lead scores of schools to close or shift instruction online, transit agencies to dial back service and churches to cut Ash Wednesday services and programs.

By 5 p.m., 425 flights had been canceled at MSP. Delta, the dominant carrier, scrubbed more than 500 flights at MSP and adjacent airports in the Upper Midwest, the airline said.

The Minnesota Valley Transit Authority was following a weekend schedule Wednesday and Thursday, meaning 15 of its routes won't operate.

Roads in the Twin Cities on Wednesday morning were snow-covered even as the Minnesota Department of Transportation deployed more than 200 plows to clear them. The break between rounds of snow allowed crews to deal with Tuesday night's snow ahead of the second round later Wednesday, said Anne Meyer, MnDOT spokeswoman.

"Tonight is the night we don't want folks out there," she said Wednesday. With snow expected to fall at a rate of an inch per hour and winds gusting over 30 mph, "it will be challenging for our snow plows, so imagine what it will be like for the average driver."

Meyer said road conditions could become "impossible," particularly in western and southern Minnesota. "This might be one night Mother Nature wins."

At 2 p.m., MnDOT closed I-90 from Worthington west to the South Dakota border, and all state highways in Rock and Nobles counties from Worthington south to the Iowa border in southwestern Minnesota as blowing and drifting snow created blizzard and whiteout conditions, the agency said.

Slick conditions snarled traffic during the Wednesday morning commute and led to several crashes. Three mishaps involved MnDOT snow plows, Meyer said.

The State Patrol responded to 258 crashes and 142 spinouts statewide between 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. None were fatal, but a four-car pile-up on northbound Cedar Avenue at I-35E had lanes closed for a few hours Wednesday morning. There was one serious injury in the crash.

Snow emergencies were in effect in several metro-area suburbs and began Wednesday evening in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Minneapolis had opened more than 5,000 free covered spots to help residents find places for their cars during the snow emergency, Mayor Jacob Frey tweeted Wednesday evening. These Minneapolis lots were not yet full Wednesday:

  • Farmers Market lot at 225 E. Lyndale Av.
  • Salvation Army lot at 601 N. 4th St.
  • Basilica lot at 13 N. 17th St.
  • Seven Points ramp at 1375 W. 31st St.
  • MoZaic Art ramp at 1340 Lagoon Av.

The storm that NOAA's Weather Prediction Center has classified as "extreme" prompted several churches to call off services on the first day of Lent.

State courthouses in many counties were closed early Wednesday or didn't open at all. They included Cottonwood, Isanti, Jackson, Martin, McLeod, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Sibley and Watonwan counties.

Officials deciding not to open their courthouses Thursday include those in Carver, Chisago, Dakota, Isanti, Kandiyohi, Meeker, Murray, Swift and Waseca counties. Courts are also closed in Scott and Washington counties, but people scheduled for in-person hearings can check on their proceedings being held remotely.

In Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the state's busiest district courts, some in-person hearings will be conducted remotely Thursday. Sibley County, southwest of the Twin Cities, intends to go remote Thursday as well for its hearings.

Hennepin Healthcare closed its clinics early at 3 p.m. Wednesday and will keep them closed until noon Thursday, according to its website. Those wanting to check for closure updates can check online at

More than 400 school districts and private and charter schools either closed or moved classes online Wednesday and Thursday. Minneapolis Public Schools will shift instruction online for the rest of the week. Classes in St. Paul will be conducted remotely Wednesday and Thursday but close for a snow day Friday. Both districts said after-school activities were canceled.

Eden Prairie, Edina, St. Cloud, Osseo, Robbinsdale and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan in the metro area were among districts that also announced students would attend class remotely Wednesday and Thursday.

In greater Minnesota, Rochester and Winona schools closed Wednesday. In Austin, school leaders shifted to e-learning days Wednesday and Thursday.

The weather did not stop the Minnesota State High School League Girls State Hockey tournament. Four games were scheduled Wednesday and started at 11 a.m. at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

As temperatures hovered in the teens, several customers in apartment buildings were without electricity in the area of Thompson Avenue and Bidwell Street in West St. Paul. The outage happened after a drunken driver took out a utility pole, police said.

The Weather Service warned that heavy snow could take down power lines, as well.

Star Tribune reporter Paul Walsh contributed to this article.