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Multi-day snowstorm on track to pummel Minnesota, Wisconsin

Minnesota Power has called-in extra crews over concerns that brittle trees will be blown down onto more power lines.

Blizzard walk
A major snowstorm is expected to hinder travel across much of the Upper Midwest this week, along with gale-force winds and dangerously cold wind chills. Blizzard conditions are possible in some areas.
Steve Kuchera / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The good news is the snow coming in this week’s multi-day snowstorm will be light and fluffy in the Northland.

The bad news is that it’s going to be whipped around by gale-force winds.

The storm is expected to hinder travel across a big swath of the Midwest, including the southern half of Minnesota and much of Wisconsin, Iowa and parts of Illinois, Missouri and Indiana, with snow starting Wednesday and lasting in some areas into Saturday.

The heaviest snow may slide to the south of the Northland. But the National Weather Service in Duluth said Tuesday there's still a good chance for 6 inches or more new snow for north-central Minnesota, the Twin Ports and northern Wisconsin. The South Shore snowbelt could see upward of a foot of new snow by Saturday. Areas north and west of the Iron Range will see little or no snow.

A winter storm warning has been posted from 9 a.m. Wednesday until noon Saturday for all of Northwestern Wisconsin, the Twin Ports and Aitkin, Pine , Carlton and southern St Louis counties in Minnesota, plus the North Shore areas of Lake and Cook counties. Winter storm and blizzard warnings are posted for much of southern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa as well. A winter weather advisory is posted for the Iron Range and north-central Minnesota.

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winter storm 12/20
Areas under a winter storm warning, shaded in pink, in Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota are likely to bear the brunt of the latest winter storm from Wednesday into Saturday in some areas. Parts of southern Minnesota are under a blizzard warning.
Contributed / National Weather Service

Winds will gust to 45 mph and higher from the northwest from Thursday night into Saturday, blowing snow around and reducing visibility in open areas and creating dangerously cold wind chills.

Unlike last week’s heavy, wet snow that toppled trees and cut electricity to thousands of Northland residents, this week’s snow will be drier and lighter. But forecasters say the high winds over several days may stress already snow-laden trees, causing more outages across the Northland.

Tree branches weighed down by snow.
Tree branches in front of a Proctor home bend over due to heavy wet snow Dec. 15.
Wyatt Buckner / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

With daily high temperatures in the single digits and nightly lows well below zero, plus wind chill, the Weather Service notes this is not a good time to be losing power. It might be good to have a backup source of heat or electricity or an alternate place to spend the night.

“Prepare now! Prepare now! Prepare now!,” the Duluth forecasters posted on their Facebook page.

Minnesota Power on Tuesday said it expected more outages due to the brittle nature of many already stressed trees and said crews have been working where and when possible to preemptively remove tree limbs hanging over wires.

"Despite the preventative tree removals, power outages are still possible during this storm. Travel and working conditions are expected to be hazardous and difficult at times and could slow any response during what is expected to be bitterly cold and windy weather,'' the Duluth-based utility said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. Both Minnesota Power an Superior Water, Light and Power have called in "additional resources from neighboring utilities depending on the magnitude of outages. It is important to note that severe weather is predicted for much of the country, and resources are limited as utilities across the nation are responding to, preparing for or assessing weather-related outages."

According to the Tuesday afternoon forecast, the Twin Ports area should see somewhere between 4-8 inches of fluffy snow between Wednesday and Thursday, with mostly blowing snow and brutal wind chills after that. But the South Shore snowbelt could see 12-24 inches by Saturday thanks to ongoing lake effect snow off Lake Superior.

The Weather Service said regional travel may be impacted from Wednesday through Christmas Eve across much of the Upper Midwest. They suggest planning ahead to check road conditions or making alternate plans.

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This story was updated at 4:24 p.m. Dec. 20 with new forecast information.  It was originally posted at 8:48 a.m. Dec. 20.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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