MINNEAPOLIS -- A winter storm packing blizzard-like conditions closed hundreds of schools and made travel treacherous in southern Minnesota Wednesday.
Minnesota Department of Transportation warned drivers to stay off the roads in 21 counties hit with heavy snow and gusty winds.
MnDOT communications director Kevin Gutknecht said motorists were able to navigate the main streets in the Twin Cities metro area early Wednesday.
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The first major storm of the season has already taken its toll in terms of crashes. According to the Minnesota State Patrol, there were 345 property damage crashes statewide and 54 injury crashes Tuesday. The metro area handled 285 of the 345 property damage crashes and 39 of the 54 injury crashes.
"You see red everywhere. You're supposed to see white, but you see red all the time from the tail lights," said Leif Thorsgaard, who was trying to stay on his pizza delivery schedule despite the delays Tuesday night.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation said the commute Tuesday night was helped by people leaving work early.
MNDOT also prepared for the storm by starting to apply anti-icing chemicals on Monday night and throughout the day Tuesday.
More than 200 snowplow drivers will also continue to work around the clock until the storm has passed and the roads are cleared. Still, officials say they need drivers' cooperation to ensure a safe morning commute.
"We expect the morning commute to be something that people should plan for. If it takes you a half hour generally, I would give yourself an hour," said Mary McFarland, a MNDOT spokesperson.
Beyond that -- officials also urge drivers to stay off the roads, if possible.
"We're advising folks if they don't have to drive, don't drive," McFarland said.
Minnesota Management and Budget commissioner Tom Hanson delayed the opening of state offices until 10 a.m. Wednesday in 13 counties, including Chippewa, Cottonwood, Jackson, Lac qui Parle, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, Renville, Rock and Yellow Medicine.
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