Epic blizzard rages: 70 mph winds, blocked highways, vehicle rescues

Updated: 7:36 p.m.

A major blizzard continues to rage overnight for much of Minnesota. Blizzard warnings continue until 6 a.m. Thursday for most of Minnesota.

Including the cities of Princeton, Mora, Elk River, Cambridge, Center City, Monticello, Minneapolis, Blaine, St Paul, Stillwater, Hutchinson, Gaylord, Chanhassen, Chaska, Victoria, Shakopee, Hastings, New Ulm, St Peter, Le Sueur, Faribault, Red Wing, St James, Mankato, Waseca, Owatonna, Fairmont, Blue Earth, and Albert Lea

346 PM CST Wed Dec 23 2020


* WHAT…Blizzard conditions. Total snow accumulations of 7 to 11 inches. Winds gusting as high as 60 mph. DO NOT TRAVEL UNLESS IT IS AN EMERGENCY!

* WHERE…Portions of central, east central, south central and southeast Minnesota.

* WHEN…Until 6 AM CST Thursday.

* IMPACTS…Travel will be very difficult or impossible. Widespread blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility. The hazardous conditions will impact the evening commute. Strong winds could cause tree damage. The cold wind chills as low as 30 below zero could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.

Here’s what the storm looked like as peak blizzard set in around 4 p.m. at the Weather Lab.

Impassable roads

As of this post I’m seeing reports of many stranded motorists. The Minnesota State Patrol reports cars blocking Highway 12 in southwest Minnesota, with people being rescued from vehicles.

Roads are closed by blowing and drifting snow across most of southwest Minnesota.

The Duluth area is getting hammered by high winds and snow.

Roads are closed at many other locations in Minnesota.

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday evening ordered the Minnesota National Guard to provide assistance and emergency relief services for stranded motorists during the winter storm. The Guard has been activated in Renville and Martin counties, and has opened its armories in Olivia and Fairmont to be used as a temporary shelter.

Severe thunderstorm-level winds

Wind gusts as high as 70 mph have been recorded near Lake Benton, Minn., Wednesday. Many Minnesota locations report wind gusts between 50 and 66 mph.

Wind gusts Wednesday

Wind gusts Wednesday

Twin Cities National Weather Service

Snowfall gradually tapers off overnight

The heaviest snow zone set up from near Mankato, through the Twin Cities to Duluth and the North Shore. Snow will gradually tamper off from west to east overnight into early Thursday morning. Here’s NOAA’s NAM 3 km resolution model showing the back edge of the snow zone.

NOAA NAM 3 km model

NOAA NAM 3 km model through 6 am Thursday.

NOAA via tropical tidbits

Snowfall totals

One amazing facet of this blizzard is that the high winds have literally scoured off snow and left nearly bare ground in open areas. Here are some early snowfall reports as of 6 p.m. Snow is still in progress across eastern Minnesota.

  • Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport: 4.2 inches

  • Chanhassen, Minn.: 5.5 inches

  • Carver, Minn.: 7.5 inches

The Twin Cities National Weather Service office points out that measuring snowfall in this type of storm is very difficult. Much of it is airborne or deposited in snow drifts.

Cold next

Bitterly cold air behind the storm is dropping wind chills into the minus 20s to nearly minus 30 in northwest Minnesota.

Wind chill temperatures Wednesday evening

Wind chill temperatures Wednesday evening

Oklahoma Mesonet

Highs on Christmas Eve will hover in the single digits above zero.

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