By WCCO-TV Staff

Originally published on Wednesday, Dec. 23 | See latest weather story here. 

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz has authorized the Minnesota National Guard to provide emergency services amid a Christmas Eve Eve blizzard that’s left some motorists stranded on Minnesota roads.

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The guard is activated in Renville and Martin Counties, where two major highways were closed due to winter winds and whiteout conditions. The guard is also utilizing the armories in Olivia and Fairmount as places of shelter for motorists rescued from stuck vehicles.

On Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service expanded the state’s blizzard warning to include the Twin Cities metro area. In addition to the Twin Cities, much of western, southern and central Minnesota are under a blizzard warning until midnight or Thursday morning. The real factor is the wind. Gusts above 60 mph were reported.

Xcel Energy says throughout the course of the day, some 38,000 customers lost power at some point of another. At 10 p.m. that number was closer to 3,000.

The cold front bearing the winter storm has already entered the metro area. Due to mild temperatures overnight in the 40s, the early precipitation fell as rain. However, as temperatures dropped, the rain turned to snow.

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Snowfall rates were expected to exceed 1 inch per hour, making it difficult for road crews and chemical treatment to keep up. At about 6 p.m., the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office said county plows were getting pulled off the roads because of zero visibility.

MnDOT said that crews would push on to clear the snow, working 12-hour shifts through the holidays, if necessary, to clean up.

“You shouldn’t be out either. Stay home,” the county sheriff’s office tweeted.

As of 9 p.m., the State Patrol said that they had already responded to 376 crashes and 417 instances of vehicles going off the road, along with 30 jack-knifed semi trucks. One trooper was injured trying to push a vehicle that was stuck. The injuries were not life-threatening but the officer did need to be taken to the hospital. There have been 51 crashes involving non-life threatening injuries.

At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, more than 360 flights were canceled as a fleet of more than 100 snowplows worked to keep runways clear.

As for snow totals, WCCO meteorologists predicted that the Twin Cities would bear the brunt of the snowfall, depending on where the heaviest bands of snow line up.

Minneapolis and St. Paul have both declared snow emergencies, as have a number of metro cities, such as St. Louis Park, Robbinsdale, West St. Paul, Elk River, Crystal, and Brooklyn Park. (For more information on snow emergency rules, click here.)

In northwestern Minnesota, where the storm arrived before sunrise, several highways were under a no travel advisory, where they remained Wednesday evening.

Here are some of the highways that were closed as of 6 p.m.:

  • I-94 in eastbound direction between Monticello and Albertville
  • I-90 in both directions near Fairmont
  • I-535 in both directions in Duluth (since reopened)
  • US Highway 71 in Park Rapids (since reopened)

Also, the State Patrol says that Highway 12 was completely blocked with vehicles, and was closed between Murdock and Benson. Troopers were working to rescue people from the vehicles.

 

Because of the Christmas holiday and the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers and students were home Wednesday. Still, weather officials urged Minnesotans with holiday travel or shopping plans to stay home and not go out on the roads except for emergencies.

Even the state’s community COVID-19 testing sites were closed Wednesday afternoon. The affected sites include those in Moorhead, Winona, Duluth, St. Cloud, Brooklyn Park, St. Paul, the Minneapolis Convention Center, and at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Those who had appointments are advised to reschedule here.

After the storm, the strong winds are expected to linger into Thursday morning, reducing visibility although the snowfall will have stopped. As the gusts continue, temperatures will plunge. The Twin Cities is expected to log Thursday its first subzero temperature reading of the season. Meanwhile, cities in northern Minnesota could see the mercury dip into the negative double digits.

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As for Christmas Day, a warm-up is in the forecast. Expect temperatures to rebound into the upper teens under a mix of sunshine and clouds. Be sure to get the snow boots, snowshoes and sleds ready. There’ll be more than enough snow for a white Christmas.