Latest snowfall puts Twin Cities closer to record-setting winter

Digging out the car
With help from Ron Williams, Sololia Etafa dug her car out of the snow on University Avenue in Minneapolis, Minn. Monday, Feb. 21, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

It's the end of a three-day weekend for many Minnesotans, and if you spent a lot of your Monday outside moving snow around, there may be bragging rights involved as some parts of the state saw a record-setting 17 inches of snow.

Snow continued to fall in the Twin Cities metro Monday afternoon, but the National Weather Service expected it to stop by 7 p.m. with temperatures remaining below freezing.

The Presidents Day holiday meant a day off for many people, but unfortunately it also meant fewer excuses to skip shoveling.

Doug Rzeszutek was out under a gray sky Monday, shoveling his neighbor's driveway on St. Clair Avenue in St Paul.

"I was out last night for about four hours," he said. "I got all the sidewalks done. The snowplow come by and literally buried everything that I'd done last night."

Many areas in Minnesota set records Sunday for the most snow on that date -- February 20. Those include Minnesota River towns like Hutchinson and Montevideo -- and for them, that means more moisture to fuel what is already predicted to be a harrowing flood season.

The Twin Cities broke a record for February 20, with more than 12 inches in some parts, bringing the metro snowfall total to more than 70 inches so far this winter. Climatologist Mark Seeley said that's rare, but not a record.

"My guess is we get over 70 inches in the Twin Cities, somewhere between one out of 15 and one out of 20 winters," Seeley said.

Seeley is with the University of Minnesota's extension service. He said the annual record for snow accumulation in the Twin Cities is 98.5 inches. He said there's a possibility we'll reach that mark.

"We still have the whole month of March to go, and we have received as much as 40 inches historically in March," he said. "So not to say that's going to happen, but we have to recognize that's within the realm of possibility."

But more snow could eventually mean budget problems for local governments. Shannon Tyree, a spokeswoman for the St. Paul Public Works department, said the snow emergency St. Paul declared Sunday was the third of the year. Tyree said the city budgets for four from January through December.

That means St. Paul has the money for one more snow emergency. Tyree said each costs between $500,000 and $550,000.

"You know we still have some winter to go, so we have to see what that brings," Tyree said.

Minneapolis has also had three snow emergencies since the beginning of the year. Public works director Steve Kotke said that's all the city budgets for each calendar year.

But Minneapolis is already well past its record for snow emergencies in a single winter -- since last fall, Kotke said the city has declared eight.

"The most we've ever declared in one season has been six, so we're already two past the most we've ever declared and it's still February," Kotke said.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have been stepping up efforts to get messages out about snow emergencies through social media. Residents of both cities -- if they're paying attention to their Facebook messages or the texts on their cell phones -- could be saving money.

But officials say the numbers of tickets and tows have stayed pretty steady this season. St. Paul has handed out as many as 3,400 tickets during a single snow emergency this winter. The city has towed as many as 1,100 cars during a snow emergency.

In Minneapolis, Public Works Director Steve Kotke said they ticket about 10,000 cars during a three-day snow emergency and the city tows about 2,000 cars.

If it makes those drivers feel better, Kotke said Minneapolis doesn't make much money off the tickets and tows.

"We would very much prefer for people to move their cars and for us not to have to tow," Kotke said.

The city's snow emergency goes into effect at 9 p.m. Monday night.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation said roads in the Twin Cities are still in difficult to fair condition. Spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said roads are especially treacherous outside the metro.

"Southern part of the state, southeast and south central, the roads are still in difficult driving conditions," Gutknecht said. "We have crews out, they're moving the snow, but as the snow continues and the wind is blowing, it causes visibility issues."

Gutknecht said there are 200 plows working in the metro area and 700 more working statewide. He said people should leave plenty of room between them and plows. Gutknecht said drivers should also brush snow off their cars and use their headlights.

(MPR reporters Madeleine Baran and Matt Sepic contributed to this report.)

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