What could be the biggest snow storm of the winter is bearing down on Minnesota. Several inches of snow are expected to fall through Wednesday from Alexandria - northeast to Brainerd and Duluth. Minnesota Public Radio meteorologist Paul Huttner said it looks like the Twin Cities will stay at or above freezing and miss most of the accumulating snow.
"One to two, one to three maybe northwest metro, and then more like five to 10 as you head up toward St. Cloud," he said. "So the further north and west you go from the Twin Cities the quicker you're going to run into snow and very severe winter storm conditions up along I-94."
Some parts of west-central Minnesota will experience blizzard conditions and could see well over a foot of snow, Huttner said.
A rain-snow mix is expected in the metro this afternoon and evening before turning to all snow overnight. Commuters in the Twin Cities may face their biggest traffic headaches Wednesday morning.
But for the businesses that depend on it, is it too late?
Gull Lake, Minn.
Jay Chaney and his wife own Boats and Beyond Rentals on Gull Lake in the central Minnesota town of Nisswa. A lot of Chaney's business is boat rental during the summer, so that's obviously not affected. But they also bought 15 brand new snowmobiles before this winter to rent and he has had zero rentals of those machines this winter. Dozens of people who reserved snowmobiles canceled.
The three to four inches of snow they got this weekend was probably the most that area has received at any one time this winter, Chaney said.
"It's just a bad winter," he said. "What it does is it will put you in a bad mood once in a while, until you realize it's our own fault that we got into the business we did. No, it won't sink us - we're pretty smart about how we do things and we're set up to handle this type of thing."
Chaney doesn't buy any of his snowmobiles or boats on credit -- cash only -- so he has no looming debt payments to worry about. He usually sells his snowmobiles after about 8,000 miles, which roughly works out to two years per machine -- and with no rentals this year it means he can put off buying replacements for another year.
If the rest of the storm shows up as promised, he should be able to make a go of it: About 12 inches would be good for snowmobiles. Once the snow falls on the wood trails, it should stay for a few weeks, so he can get in a few weekends of business, but it won't save the winter.
Chaney has already rented nine of those 15 snowmobiles for Wednesday, so if the snow does arrive, he'll rent a snowmobile for the first time this winter.
St. Paul, Minn.
Even if there is snow in some parts of the state, people don't always react and think of that, so they won't buy winter gear until they see the snow in their own backyards, said Jim Rauscher, co-owner of Joe's Sporting Goods in St. Paul. His ice fishing business was still okay, he said, and alpine ski gear did pretty well, but cross country skis and snowshoes "took a beating."
This week's snow won't have a huge impact, Rauscher said.
"For the most part, when you're at March 1st, you're thinking spring and you're already doing the store change-overs for spring stuff, and consolidating down all your winter goods - and most of it is at close-out pricing," he said. "So yeah, it will help a little bit with sell-through, but as far as any savings or helping the winter season -- I needed that at least a month ago, if not two or three."
Some winters are are at least cold, but no snow -- so people at least buy coats. Then you have snow and no cold, so costumers buy outdoor equipment. This year was no cold and no snow, so you can imagine where that left him.
Ely recently had a winter festival and had to bring in snow from a nearby lake to the city park so they could hold their snow sculpting competition.
"I would say the most we've have on the ground at any time is about seven inches, and then we get the warm weather," said Linda Fryer of the Ely Chamber of Commerce. "It impacts the lodging; we're not seeing the snowmobilers. Our cross country ski trails have been in fairly good shape for the winter, and our dog sled mushers have been doing halfway decent. But, you know, we're missing the snowmobilers. And the fact that nobody else has had snow, people have a mindset that they don't even think about winter activities, so that's hurt us too."
International Falls, Minn.
Rodney Haanen owns Thunderbird Lodge on Rainy Lake, along with his wife. The season has been reasonably good, he said, with snowmobiling traffic being his main winter draw.
"February is our normal good snowmobile month and it was a very good month for us," Haanen said. "And even though the month is almost over, we've had two snows in the past week and a half. Even though it's late, it's still good. People are getting more excited about snowmobiling because elsewhere they're getting snow, so hopefully it will help traffic up this way too."