It's the difference between a tabby kitten and a tiger.

About half an inch of snow fell in Rochester early Wednesday. What's to come Friday and Saturday will be a monster by comparison. 

The National Weather Service in La Crosse anticipates a major winter storm will hit Southeast Minnesota beginning early Friday morning and extending through Saturday evening, with snow accumulations anywhere from 5 to 9 inches and counting — the NWS hasn't yet given a snowfall range for Saturday — likely in the Rochester area.

"We'll have a little bit better sense when we wake up Friday morning," said Rochester Emergency Management Director Ken Jones. 

By then, the NWS will have a better picture of the path of the storm, and where and when the heavy snowfall will hit over the course of the weekend, he said.

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The city's public works department will be watching the temperature as much as the snowfall, Jones said. That helps in the work before the storm, such as putting down brine in spots to avoid icing and help plows clear snow from trouble spots. 

One of the good things, he said, is that downtown, there is plenty of storage capacity for plow drivers, meaning there are places to push the snow without needing to haul it away right away. 

Things the city can't control, Jones said, are the timing and depth of the snow.

"The last big snowfall, around Thanksgiving time, the impact came late in the day, so our crews were able to clear it off because everything came at night," he said. 

For anyone planning to travel over the weekend, Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Dougherty said folks should pay attention to the weather and decide whether to leave early or just not leave at all. 

Dougherty said MnDOT crews are already prepping for the weekend, making sure brine tanks are full and ensuring the plows are ready to roll.

"We have 101 snowplows across our 11-county district," Dougherty said. "As soon as the snow's done, we want to get back to bare lanes as fast as we can."

With about 3,600 lane miles to clear, that means the district's 240 drivers will rotate on and off for 12-hour shifts until the roads are clear, often covering the same stretch of road multiple times, he said.

In anticipation of the weekend, Dougherty said MnDOT crews will be out prepping bridges, exit and entrance ramps on highways, and other icy trouble spots to make the weekend's plowing go more smoothly. 

While the expectation for the weekend is a heavy snowfall, Jones said, for now, it doesn't look like any extraordinary measures will be taken. 

"This is big, but not catastrophic," he said.

The 2018-19 winter season saw a record 86.8 inches of snow fall upon Rochester, with records being set across Southeast Minnesota. Here's a look at the snowfall totals thus far in the 2019-20 season.


Total: 0.3 inches

An early snowfall of 0.2 inches on Oct. 12 started the snowfall season. 


Total: 13.1 inches

Two big storms — 4.1 inches on Nov. 6 and 6.8 inches over Nov. 26-27 — pushed this past November into the top 10 snowiest Novembers ever. 


Total: 7.1 inches

Early snowfalls of less than 2 inches combined with warm weather did not make for a white Christmas. But 2.8 inches on Dec. 30 helped make the new year sparkle.


Total: 2.8 inches (through Tuesday)

A half-inch here, an inch-and-a-quarter there have all been a warmup for the big event this weekend.