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'Historic' storm threatens to cripple region

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A blizzard expected to start Wednesday could be historic and cause crippling conditions throughout the region for several days, the National Weather Service said.

“This might be one of these storms you’re going to tell your kids about,” Meteorologist Vince Godon said.

Blizzard conditions are expected to hit the region starting Wednesday afternoon and last potentially until Friday morning, meteorologist Carl Jones said. The area is expected to see extremely high winds paired with large amounts of snowfall and potentially light rain.

Jones said the storm will make travel nearly impossible and could cause power outages and street flooding while the heavy snow could damage structures.

“This has the potential to be the worst blizzard of the season,” he said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the location of heaviest storm impact was still being determined, although meteorologists believe it will pass through the Red River Valley into central and northwestern Minnesota.

Near Grand Forks there may be a half-inch to 1 inch of rain starting Wednesday afternoon, although Jones said the area will be hit hardest by snowfall. Between 6-12 inches of snow is expected in Grand Forks and Thief River Falls starting Wednesday night. Jones warned there may be higher amounts possible depending upon the path of the storm and some areas in the region could see up to 18 inches.

High winds are expected to hit Wednesday night simultaneously with the snowfall, which will likely cause an intense blizzard. Winds are expected to reach 50-60 mph, although Jones said Grand Forks may see gusts above 60 mph.

The impact of the storm will reach a crippling intensity around midnight and continue throughout Thursday and into the early hours of Friday, Jones said. Conditions may begin to improve after 6 a.m., beginning in the west and heading east.

Temperatures are expected to remain above freezing most of Wednesday, which is why rain is a concern, Jones said. The rain will sink into existing snow piles and cause fresh snow to be heavy and wet. Jones warned the new precipitation may add significant weight and the excessive snow on rooftops could lead to structure collapses.

The high winds and snowfall will cause massive snow drifts and make travel near impossible throughout most of the storm.

“You can put a winter survival kit in your car -- but honestly why are you out driving in these conditions?” Jones said. He advised anyone with travel plans to stay home.

He said Friday morning road conditions between Grand Forks and Fargo may still be problematic.

“You have to realize it’s going to take awhile to clean this up.”

Jones said there would be a wind warning in effect with 60 mph winds during any other season and the extremes have the potential to down power lines.

Although preliminary comparisons were drawn to Blizzard Hannah in April 1997, meteorologists said they’re not yet convinced this storm will be as severe. This storm will also not directly impact flooding in the river, Jones said, and Hannah occurred while flooding was already underway.

Temperatures are not expected to drop below zero, although they will remain below freezing from Thursday through the next week.

A blizzard warning was already in effect Tuesday afternoon as meteorologists prepared for the system to head east.