FARGO — It is worse than previously anticipated. Meteorologists are now upping the expected snow totals for the Red River Valley, as parts of North Dakota are expected to be pounded by a blizzard, while the Fargo-Moorhead area and western Minnesota are expected to see a winter weather storm.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation advised no travel in northeast North Dakota Thursday evening as high winds and heavy snow created near-zero visibility conditions in areas around Grand Forks, Drayton, Grafton, Pembina and Cooperstown.
Around 7:30 p.m. a travel alert remained in effect for areas around Jamestown, Valley City, Ellendale, Towner, Devils Lake and Carrington due to heavy snow and icy roads.
A number of crashes were reported along I-94 Thursday, and nearly a dozen cars slid off the road between the Buffalo and Valley City exits. Two semis tipped over and one of the drivers had to break his windshield to get out of the cab.
The North Dakota Highway Patrol said only a few minor injuries were reported.
Schools in east-central and northeastern North Dakota announced closures as the storm created hazardous conditions across the region. The University of North Dakota said late Thursday that it would close at 10 p.m. and would remain closed Friday.
Wind will play a factor with this storm, especially over east-central North Dakota where heavy snow could line up with very gusty winds topping off in the 40-60 mph range. A blizzard is expected to develop Friday into Saturday for those areas and travel could be nearly impossible for some.
Rain can be expected for the Interstate 29 corridor and into Minnesota on Thursday. A change of rain to snow will be possible in eastern North Dakota and extreme western and northwestern Minnesota Thursday night into Friday. Periods of rain/snow are forecast for Friday into Saturday for Fargo and Grand Forks.
Snow amounts near the I-29 corridor are expected to be a total of around 3 - 6 inches at this time but are subject to change if this system takes a different path.
Travel in many areas will simply be impossible once the storm settles in across much of the region, according to Brittany Peterson, a meteorologist with the Weather Service. She said the storm's effects should taper off in the Fargo-Moorhead area by Saturday night.
John Wheeler, chief meteorologist for WDAY-TV, described the weather system that was developing in central North Dakota as "an extremely powerful storm that we don't routinely see."
Wheeler said snowfall predictions in the 18-30 inch range, and possibly more, for parts of central and northeastern North Dakota remained on track as of Thursday morning.
Wheeler said snowfall in the F-M area over the course of the storm could be in the 3-6 inch range, or much higher. Click here for a look at the snow totals seen so far in North Dakota.
Weather Service officials also said the potential for snow in the Red River Valley portion of the region remained highly uncertain, with Peterson calling it an area "we are watching closely."
Stay safe and be prepared for the potential of power outages if heavy snow impacts your area. The heavy snow can weigh down branches as many still have leaves on them.