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Whiteout conditions expected as winter storm threatens holiday plans


On Thursday, Minnesotans braced for a monstrous winter storm that is already wreaking havoc in other parts of the country, just in time to threaten last-minute deliveries and long-awaited travel plans that come with the Christmas holidays. .

After a record 8.1 inches of snow in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Wednesday, a Thursday morning respite ended as winds began picking up in western and southern Minnesota in the afternoon. Gusts of 20 to 25 mph created extremely low visibility along Interstate 90 and in the Redwood Falls area. Conditions were so bad in Renville County, about two hours west of the Twin Cities, that the public works department pulled its plows off the roads at noon.

Windchill readings at 2 p.m. included 44 below in Worthington and Slayton, the coldest in the state at this time. Alexandria, Olivia and Glenwood in central Minnesota were close behind at 40C or colder, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tyler Hasenstein in the Twin Cities.

“It’s getting closer” to the Twin Cities, Hasenstein said, although the really brutal Arctic air wasn’t expected to hit the subway until Thursday evening. “That’s when it will get worse.”

A blizzard warning went into effect Thursday afternoon for areas of Minnesota west of the Mississippi River, while a winter storm warning covered areas east of the river, both in place until through Friday evening, the weather service said.

“Several hours of whiteout conditions are expected this afternoon, even in metropolitan areas,” the weather service said. In the early evening, the Minnesota Department of Transportation advised against traveling at night in 13 southwestern counties “due to limited visibility and extreme weather conditions which can be life threatening if grounded.” The agency also closed Interstate 90 west of Albert Lea to the South Dakota border beginning at 7 p.m.

Minneapolis, St. Paul and several metropolitan area suburbs declared snow emergencies that continued Thursday.

Snow totals included 8.1 inches at Robbinsdale and Ramsey, 8 inches at Lakeville, 7.5 inches at White Bear Lake, 7.3 inches at Savage and Shakopee, 6.9 inches at Fridley, 6.5 inches at Oakdale , 5.9 inches in Bloomington and 5.5 inches in Red Wing, the weather service said.

All that snow combined with icy conditions allowed the precipitation to freeze and pack on the roadway making for a chilly ride in the morning. The State Patrol said it responded Thursday to hundreds of crashes and fallouts across the state.

“Slippery spots can abound,” said MnDOT spokeswoman Anne Meyer. While the agency has 200 plows working in the Twin Cities and hundreds more across the state, “it takes longer” in the cold because the chemicals don’t work as fast or as well. “The crews are out there and we’re doing what we can with what we have,” she said.

The city streets weren’t much better. Metro Transit said buses were late on nearly half of all routes Thursday afternoon.

In the Minnesota River Valley, 100 people and 50 horses were making their way to Mankato as part of the Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride – and so far the cold wasn’t too bad.

Also, Todd Finney, who is the ayapha or “voice” of the carousel, has seen worse. Some years runners have experienced wind chills as cold as 70 below, he said.

The annual run, which begins in Lower Brule, SD, honors the 38+2 Dakotas – the 38 Dakotas who were hanged on December 26, 1862. The “2” symbolizes two men who were later captured and hanged. On Thursday, the group traveled 16 miles from Morton, Minnesota, to Fort Ridgely near Fairfax, Minnesota.

“Today, because we’re in the river valley, it was actually really nice because the storm was above us,” Finney said.

Thursday and Friday were supposed to be busy travel days in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, with 33,000 passengers expected to pass through security checkpoints daily. But Wednesday’s snowstorm upended estimates, forcing major airlines to issue waivers for travelers to rebook flights without penalty.

“We had many more passengers who moved their flights to [Wednesday]said MAC spokesman Jeff Lea, making it “a very tough day.”

By Thursday afternoon, some 80 flights from MSP had been canceled and 66 delayed. Most of the canceled flights appeared to be those in the heart of the bomb cyclone, including Chicago, Denver and several cities in the Midwest.

Siblings Will and Olivia McDowell were doing their best to get to Sioux Falls, SD, after leaving Vienna (via Paris) the day before. Their flight had been canceled and they feared there would be no room on other flights to their hometown.

“I’m a little homesick right now,” Will said. “We just want to go home and see our family.”

Here’s what to expect over the next three days:

Thursday

Winds were expected to strengthen, reaching 20 to 30 mph in the evening and causing widespread drift and reduced visibility. Windchill readings were expected to drop between 30 below and 45 below.

from Thursday evening to Friday

Conditions will be worst after 6 p.m. Thursday through most of Friday, the National Weather Service said. Peak winds will approach 40 mph between midnight and noon Friday. “Significant travel impacts are likely across the region,” the weather service said.

Power outages are possible as snow piled up on trees from last week’s storm could cause branches to snap and fall on power lines, the weather service said.

Saturday

Dangerously weak wind chills will envelope much of central and southern Minnesota through Saturday morning. The lowest readings are expected from 9 a.m. Thursday to 9 a.m. Friday and again Saturday morning.

Writers Zoë Jackson and Janet Moore contributed to this report.



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