The first ‘big’ one of the winter is here

WILLMAR — Those who were hoping for a white Christmas just had to wait a few days more. A major winter storm could drop close to a foot of snow in southwestern and west central Minnesota, including the Willmar lakes area.

“Willmar is on track to see higher snow amounts,” said Tyler Hasenstein, meteorologist with the National Weather Service based in Chanhassen.

Snow estimates are between 6 to 12 inches, with snow possibly falling from Wednesday afternoon through the day Thursday.

A winter storm warning has been issued for the vast majority of Minnesota. In west central and central Minnesota the warning went into effect at 6 p.m. Wednesday and lasts through noon Friday.

A winter weather advisory was issued for Redwood, Renville and McLeod counties in the local region. The advisory started at 6 p.m. Wednesday and goes through 6 a.m. Thursday. However, there is still a very good chance of precipitation in the advisory area through Thursday, according to the weather service forecast.

Willmar is just north of the transition line between snow and rain. Those north of the line, running northeast from Redwood through Renville and into McLeod and Wright counties should see mostly snow and have higher accumulation amounts.

“If the track wobbles just a little, you could see a little less,” Hasenstein said.

Those south of the line, like Olivia and Redwood Falls, could see both snow and rain, with fewer inches adding up, depending on how cold it gets overnight Thursday. The rain following later in the storm could also melt snow that might already have fallen, decreasing the storm totals.

“It might get rid of accumulation,” Hasenstein said.

There could be a risk of ice forming for those in the advisory area as the storm rotates around and temperatures drop. Hasenstein said people should be aware of the possibility.

Wind will not be a huge factor, Hasenstein said. However some blowing snow is possible with wind gusts around 25 mph. Higher wind speeds could happen toward the end of the storm, around Thursday night and Friday morning.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is also getting ready for the storm. Staff were on the roads Wednesday, prior to the storm hitting, to begin pre-treating the roads and to monitor conditions.

MnDOT is asking motorists to prepare for changing road conditions through the next few days. In addition to accumulating snow, there could be reduced visibility due to blowing snow. Drivers should check road conditions before heading out by going to www.511mn.org or using the 511 app on their smartphones.

If you have to be on the roads during the storm, allow for extra time, have headlights on, stay back at least 10 car lengths behind a plow and be patient if you end up behind a plow. Drivers should also slow down, MnDOT said.

Xcel Energy is asking customers to report power outages, if they happen, to assist crews in bringing the electricity back online.

People should make sure their natural gas meters are clear of snow and ice so that vents do not become clogged or sealed up, Xcel Energy said in a news release. This will help prevent natural gas buildups in homes, that can be fatal.

Homeowners also need to be safe if using space heaters, including not leaving them unattended or having them on while sleeping.

Once the winter storm moves out, Hasenstein said the area should get a few days of clearing, though Saturday is forecast to have a high of 6.

Early next week could be rather chilly as well.

“Highs in the single digits,” Hasenstein said, with wind from the northwest.

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