One of the biggest snowstorms of the season blanketed parts of Minnesota on Friday, stalling rush-hour traffic in the Twin Cities and shutting down a major interstate and other highways in western Minnesota.
Schools closed early in many rural areas, and sporting events and other activities were canceled. Transportation officials urged no travel in parts of western Minnesota and across the south, where plows were called in because of perilous driving conditions.
"The snow is dying out, but the winds are picking up and will be rather strong overnight," Lyle Schaller, a technician with the National Weather Service, said Friday night. "There will be some drifting, especially in western Minnesota where winds are already 50 miles-per-hour."
Snowfall was light in the north.
After little snow this season, the weather service predicted 8.4 inches of snowfall in the Twin Cities by 6 a.m. Saturday. Near-blizzard conditions were expected Friday night near Litchfield and Hutchinson in west-central Minnesota. Winds there could reach 25 to 30 miles per hour, with gusts above from 10 p.m. through 6 a.m. The Mankato region received 3 inches of snow and was also bracing for a blizzard.
Around 8 p.m., the State Patrol closed I-94 between Alexandria and Moorhead because of zero visibility, said Cpl. Tim Clements. The patrol also closed U.S. Highway 10 from Detroit Lakes to Moorhead and Minnesota Highway 210 from Fergus Falls to Breckenridge.
The roads would be closed until further notice, Clements said.
More than 100 vehicles slid into the ditch in Clay County, Sheriff Bill Bergquist said. Two people rescued from their stranded vehicle were treated for frostbite at a Fargo hospital.
By 6 p.m., just a single runway was open at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Northwest Airlines canceled 21 mainline flights Friday afternoon, said spokeswoman Mary Stanik. Stanik said 114 Mesaba Airlines flights have been canceled, and Pinnacle Airlines has canceled 67 flights.
The new light-rail transit system that runs from Minneapolis to Bloomington faced its first snow test. Each of the 24 cars is equipped with a snowplow and can clear tracks and make its own way, said Bob Gibbons, customer service director.
The line doesn't run between about 1:30 and 4 a.m., however, which could leave obstructing drifts. Transit officials would determine whether to operate some cars during the night to keep the tracks clear.
The snow was welcome for snowmobile dealers who have been waiting for a big storm. But with only 4.9 inches of snow before Friday in the Twin Cities -- less than a fifth of what had fallen by this time last year -- it all seemed too little, too late for some.
"If I do get up on the counter and dance, it'll be a very slow dance," said John Berens, a salesman at Leo's South, a Ski-doo dealership in suburban Lakeville.
By 11 a.m. Friday, Steve Myhre, owner of Steve's Equipment Co. in Montevideo, had sold a snow blower and a couple snowmobiles. "I'd say better late than never," Myhre said.
Doug Studanski, owner of Motor Sports of Willmar, said he'd sold some snowmobiles Friday morning, too. "It'll be real good riding this weekend," he said. "This snow should last for awhile."
The heavy snow came a little too late for the St. Paul Winter Carnival, which had snow trucked in from Buck Hill, a ski area in suburban Burnsville that can make snow. The festival begins Jan. 28.
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