GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — Snow is snarling the lives of Minnesotans trying to get from point A to point B Wednesday, impacting everything from air travel and buses and trains, to motorists just attempting to get to work in one piece.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) tweeted around 9 a.m. that all flights had been suspended due to low visibility and the fast rate of snowfall, as runway plows are unable to keep up.
Passenger David McKay of British Columbia was trying to get home to Vancouver. He and fellow passengers boarded their flight, but were unable to take off due to deteriorating conditions and spent two hours on the tarmac. After returning to the gate and deplaning McKay re-boarded, but was unsure when the flight would be able to take off.
Metropolitan Airports Commission spokesman John Welbes says the biggest challenge is that snow is falling so quickly, at a rate approaching 1 inch per hour. Plows can clear, but a layer builds back in no time. Conditions will prove a challenge for plow drivers all day.
Around 9:45 MSP tweeted that one runway had been reopened, but conditions had not improved much. Welbes says the plan is to keep one runway open on a 25 minute rotation all day, with plows clearing and then takeoffs and landings taking place for 25 minutes. At that point a second runway will be opened for takeoffs and landings and the first runway re-plowed. Friction tests will be performed after each plowing to make sure landing planes can stop.
Welbes says as of 11 a.m. incoming flights were running about an hour late, while arrivals were running two hours behind. Travelers are advised to call ahead and check the on status of their flight before coming to the airport.
As of 8:40 a.m. nearly half of Metro Transit buses were running behind an average of 7 minutes or so. Both the Green and Blue light rail lines were operational, but were between 5 and 10 minutes behind on stops. By 9:30 a.m. things had improved to just one third of buses behind.
Snow began falling across the metro about 3 a.m. Wednesday, a bit later than predicted but as it grew in intensity conditions on roads across the metro and south central Minnesota began to deteriorate. .
About 5 to 8 inches are expected to fall in the metro area by the time the winter storm wraps up late afternoon or early evening.
KARE 11's Alicia Lewis notes that the number of reported accidents and spin-outs across the system appeared to be significantly down when compared to morning commutes during recent snow events, suggesting that drivers are heeding warnings, reducing speeds and increasing following distances.
The State Patrol's crash numbers reflect that. Between 5 a..m. and 10 a.m. statewide troopers responded to just 74 crashes (6 with injury, 0 serious or fatal) with an additional 218 vehicles spun out or off the road. Those numbers are actually quite positive, considering the conditions.
However, as the morning progressed and the rate and volume of snow increased conditions began deteriorating. MnDOT's Twitter feed picked up with incidents from across the metro. The State Patrol tweeted pictures of a rollover from Rochester, urging motorists to be careful and not follow too closely.
Mobile 11 was on the roads during KARE 11 Sunrise from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., and KARE 11's Kiya Edwards described roads she was on as snow packed, with one lane better cleared than others. Watch the KARE 11 Twitter account for updates during the day.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation's 511 map is showing that snow is beginning to completely cover the roads in and south of the metro. Areas in the southern portion of the state are already seeing crashes, as well as fog alerts.
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MnDOT is warning south central Minnesota about dangerous driving conditions during the Wednesday morning commute.
The department says that the expected snow should make it hard to see clearly on the roads and could "make travel difficult."
The National Weather Service has issued Winter Storm Warnings for large portions of the state.
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