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Winter storm bears down on Minnesota

By The Associated Press

A winter storm canceled flights, classes and basketball games Thursday, and caused slippery road conditions throughout much of Minnesota.

Ice coated sidewalks, roads and powerlines in southeastern Minnesota, making walking and driving difficult, and causing some power outtages.

While Rochester coped with a thick coating of ice, the rest of the state struggled with snow.

Southwestern Minnesota braced for the worst of what could be the most significant snowstorm of the winter, one forecast to dump more than a foot of snow in some places.

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Northwest Airlines canceled more than 200 flights in and out of the Twin Cities to reduce the disruption to its schedule after forecasts called for a half-foot of snow or more in the Twin Cities by the end of the evening, with several inches possible before the evening rush hour.

Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said the airline canceled about 110 departures and about 110 arrivals by mid-afternoon at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where it controls about 80 percent of the traffic. That includes Northwest Airlink regional jet flights. He noted that the number of planes the airport can accommodate per hour decreases as the visibility drops.

Winter storm warnings were out for much of southern and east-central Minnesota, while winter weather advisories were out for other parts of the state.

A growing list of school districts decided to close early or cancel after-school activities as the snow moved in. Others started classes late, and a few decided early to close for the day altogether.

Minnesota Department of Transportation crews began sanding and salting major roads at 8 a.m., spokesman Kent Barnard said. "We want people to slow down out there," he said.

In southwestern Minnesota, Jerry Hoffman of the Pipestone County sheriff's office reported 4 inches of snow on the ground by midday and "roads are getting snow-packed."

High school boys' basketball sectional playoff games were postponed in Marshall, Mankato and Rochester. The games will be played Friday and Saturday instead.

In Owatonna, high winds caused power lines to slap together around noon, cutting off electricity to roughly 22,000 customers in the southern Minnesota city, said Tom Kuntz, general manager of Owatonna Public Utilities. Crews were working to restore service, but Kuntz said they were struggling with high winds.

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At the Capitol in St. Paul, two Senate committees canceled meetings Thursday due to weather. Senators and staff members were urged to go home instead. House members continued to work.

Accumulations in the heaviest band of snow were expected to range from 8 inches to 16 inches by Friday morning, the National Weather Service said. Benson, Montevideo, Redwood Falls in western Minnesota were among the cities threatened with 16 inches of snow. Marshall and Ivanhoe in the far southwest could see total accumulations of 12 to 14 inches.

Points north of the Twin Cities were expected to dodge the worst of it, and most of the storm was expected to miss far northern Minnesota. Four to 10 inches of snow was expected around St. Cloud and Mora in central Minnesota.

Highs across the state were forecast to range from the middle 20s to middle 30s.

In addition to canceling flights, Northwest also stopped accepting unaccompanied minors originating in or connecting through the Twin Cities on Thursday, expect for those whose trips were due to end in Minneapolis by 5 p.m.

Travelers holding confirmed tickets for travel to, from or through the Twin Cities can postpone their trips through Monday without penalties or fees, subject to availability, Ebenhoch said.

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