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Snow emergency issues, drivers advised to avoid travel

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Snow in Moorhead
A man crosses Main Avenue in Moorhead as a major snowstorm begins crossing into Minnesota. Visibility in downtown Moorhead was at 1/2 mile or less due to heavy blowing snow.
MPR Photo/Than Tibbetts

Transportation officials say there are a number of accidents and spinouts because of the snowstorm making its way across Minnesota. Officials are urging drivers to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary tonight. 

Plummeting temperatures and high winds are creating hazardous conditions in some areas. Six to 10 inches of snow are expected by Friday morning for much of the Twin Cities.

Lt. Mark Peterson from the Minnesota State Patrol says it's critical for motorists to use common sense if they have to go out. 

"It is a very active time for us we are very busy troopers are responding to crashes in many locations in addition to spinouts and vehicles off the road so obviously  the message is real simple we are going to ask people to drive according to the conditions," Peterson said.

Jack-knifed buses
Two Metro Transit articulated buses slid off the road near the state Capitol in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Snow has begun to taper off in some areas. But the national weather service cautions that wind gusts of more than 20 mph could cause blowing and drifting snow through the night. 

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have declared snow emergencies today. Parking restrictions in Minneapolis and St. Paul get underway at 9 p.m.  

In western Minnesota, more than 13 inches of snow have fallen in Wheaton, Minn., while gusty winds and drifting snow are creating dangerous road conditions. 

Visibility is almost zero in some areas.

MnDOT's Kristine Hernandez said people should avoid driving unless it's absolutely necessary.

Improvised winter gear
Pedestrians in downtown St. Paul used what they had on hand to cover up during the late-February storm.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

"We've got a lot of heavy snow falling. The winds will aggravate that situation," she said. "Our drivers will go through with a plow and then the winds will blow it all right back on the road so it's tough to keep up."

Weather conditions nears the Minnesota-Iowa border are expected to deteriorate into the evening with high winds predicted. 

"We've had a lot of run off the road crashes right now," Hernandez said. "People have to be mindful not to drive too fast, keep their headlights on, don't put on your cruise control."

Several crashes are snarling traffic around the Twin Cities metro area.

A tanker truck jack-knifed on Interstate 494 near the Concord Street exit, completely stopping traffic in the eastbound lanes.

Snow battle
Pedestrians battle the winter weather in downtown St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

Forecasters are now expecting between 3 and 8 inches of snow to fall across the southern half of the state. Isolated areas could see up to a foot of snow.

MPR chief meteorologist Paul Huttner said thundersnow has been reported in Waseca, Owatonna, Faribault, Austin and Rochester.

These convective snow bands have been producing snowfall rates of several inches per hour from the southeast metro to the Iowa border, Huttner said. Lakeville, Minn., received 4 inches of snow in a one-hour snow burst.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have declared snow emergencies.

Meanwhile, the storm is causing some closures around the state. 

NOAA "SREF" model
A NOAA model paints a 6"+ snowfall "bulls eye" over central Minnesota.
Image from the NOAA

The University of Minnesota has canceled all classed after 4:40 p.m. at its Twin Cities campus. Augsburg College in Minneapolis canceled classes at 2:30 p.m.  

Minnesota State Community and Technical College's Detroit Lakes campus canceled its classes after 5 p.m. today.

The St. Paul school district has canceled many after-school programs, including after school student programs, Adult Community Education classes and meetings in district buildings.

In the Minneapolis district, parent-teacher conferences are canceled for tonight, though after school activities and athletic events will be held as scheduled.

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is closing its galleries, restaurant and canceling events scheduled for this evening.

Snow in St. Paul
Snow is falling in the Twin Cities.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

Flights are once again getting into and out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after heavy snow and low visibility forced officials to briefly close all four runways.

One runway is open and crews are working to clear a second runway to expand airport capacity. Delays are averaging about an hour and 45 minutes on arrivals.  

Airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said wind will be a concern as the storm continues. 

"We may end up using runways that we don't normally use very heavily. It really all depends on what direction the wind is coming from and how fast it comes in," Hogan said. "It is one of the things we are going to be watching and it certainly could impact operations."

Hogan said extra manpower was brought in to handle snow removal. There are about 100 people working to clear snow and ice from the runways. 

Two inches
Two inches of snow had fallen in Deephaven by 1:30 p.m. today.
MPR Photo/Paul Huttner

The National Weather Service has issued winter storm warnings and advisories for the central and southern parts of Minnesota while a wind chill advisory is in effect for the northwest part of the state.

Northwestern Minnesota are expected to see bitterly cold wind chills of 25 to 35 below zero through noon on Friday.

The forecast called for heavy snow at times in the south and central, with the precipitation starting as sleet or freezing rain in the south. Much of the state, south from Fergus Falls to the Mille Lacs area are expected to receive 6 to 8 inches of snow by this evening.  

The weather service says increasing north winds will cause blowing and drifting snow in the west, central and south.

      This morning, North Dakota cities were already reporting large amounts of snowfall, including 15 inches in Carson, 13 inches at Fort Yates, 5.5 inches in Linton and 4.6 inches in Bismarck.

Snow in Minneapolis
Snow has started falling in downtown Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

Snowplows have pulled off Interstate 29 and other roads in southeastern North Dakota because of blowing snow, and no travel is advised in the south central part of the state.

      The snow is expected to clear by Friday, but colder weather is in store with highs ranging from 5 to 15.

                    (Sea Stachura, Paul Huttner, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)