Mother Nature surprised the Brainerd lakes area and much of Minnesota with October snow — and it was wet and heavy.

The Brainerd lakes area unofficially broke the snowfall record for the day, with 4.5 inches of snow falling as of 6:20 p.m. Tuesday — and the snow was expected to continue past midnight.

The snow started out as flurries and turned into a heavy, wet snow giving motorists a reminder of how to drive in winter. Emergency 911 dispatchers were heard Tuesday, Oct. 20, almost nonstop on the police scanner paging emergency responders to vehicles in ditches, property damage crashes and one personal injury crash reported before 3 p.m. by the Minnesota State Patrol. Responders also were paged to a possible crash on Highway 64, north of Motley that resulted in the Minnesota Department of Transportation closing the highway for four hours. The highway reopened at 6:50 p.m. Tuesday.

MnDOT assisted the state patrol across central Minnesota as the roads were snow covered and icy with multiple reports of spin-outs and crashes, including Interstate 94, Highway 10, Highway 169 and Highway 23. MnDOT reported its crews were out clearing roadways and assisting law enforcement.

A low pressure system brought accumulating snow to most of central Minnesota Tuesday into Tuesday night, according to the National Weather Service in Duluth. The cities of Brainerd, Walker, Pine River, Hill City and Aitkin were in a winter weather advisory until 10 p.m. Tuesday. The weather service reiterated people should expect slippery road conditions and should call 511 for road updates or go to 511mn.org/.

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In an update by the weather service later Tuesday, the snow was expected to end around midnight to 2 a.m. Wednesday in the lakes area.

Sgt. Neil Dickenson of the Minnesota State Patrol for the northeast region said as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, there were two vehicles reported off the roads and the one vehicle crash with injuries in the Brainerd district. As of 7 p.m., the county had 14 incidents Tuesday related to vehicles off the road, along with numerous other incidents on assisting on the state highways and in the city jurisdictions.

“My advice for drivers when the roads become slippery and visibility is reduced is to slow down and drive to the road conditions,” Dickenson said. “Turn on your headlight so you are visible, always wear a seat belt, avoid distractions, increase your following distance and have a good set of all season or winter type tires with good tread depth.”

Looks like a new weather record for snowfall

Brainerd unofficially broke the record for highest snowfall set Tuesday, Oct. 20, as 4.5 inches was reported. The official record snowfall set on Oct. 20 was 2 inches in 1936 and nothing fell in 2019 — being the record low.

The snow was expected to continue Tuesday night with a 90% chance of precipitation in the Brainerd area, with a new snow accumulation of 1-3 inches possible. The high Tuesday was 31 with a low of 28.

The forecast appears dry Wednesday, but then a second round of snow is expected Thursday into Thursday night. The most snow is expected to stay in northern Minnesota, with a band of 6 inches of snow or more is possible for parts of northern Minnesota, the weather service reported. Brainerd has a 75% chance to receive 2 inches of snow or more in this second round. Traveling north to Walker, this city has a 78% chance to receive more than 2 inches.

Freezing rain and minor ice accumulations are possible from the Brainerd lakes region through the Twin Ports region. The weather service also reported areas of northwest Wisconsin could hear isolated rumbles of thunder.

Snow showers are expected to begin before 1 p.m. Thursday, and possible mix with snow showers. High near 37, with an east wind of 5 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph. Thursday night rain and snow showers are expected to continue and possibly mix with freezing rain before 2 a.m., then a chance of snow showers between 2-5 a.m. There is a 90% chance of precipitation Thursday night.

Friday there is a slight chance of snow showers and freezing rain and the weekend there is a chance of snow showers.

Bundled against the snow, a walker heads across the College Drive Bridge Tuesday, Oct. 20, in Brainerd. Snow continued to accumulate throughout the day and evening. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Bundled against the snow, a walker heads across the College Drive Bridge Tuesday, Oct. 20, in Brainerd. Snow continued to accumulate throughout the day and evening. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Getting used to driving again in wintry conditions

Crow Wing County Sheriff Scott Goddard said having good tires and wipers on vehicles is one of the winter driving tips he is beginning to offer people to prepare for the winter season besides the “common sense” tips for motorist to not drive distracted, to slow down, keep a safe distance away from vehicles on the road and braking much sooner than usual.

Goddard said having good tires before winter is a good idea so people have one less thing to think about when driving in snowy conditions. Goddard said a towing and repair business in Pequot Lakes told him that the first snowfall is literally one of their busiest days of the year.

“People realize they need tires, so the obvious takeaway from that is to check your equipment to make sure you've got good tires,” Goddard said before winter driving. “Think about your winter driving techniques and your winter driving safety. I was in the parts store today picking up a part for my ATV because I'm preparing for blowing snow, and this is just one part store in Pequot Lakes and while I was in there, there were two people getting brand new wipers for their car. So not only do we have to think about the snow tires and our tires, but also our wipers on our cars.”

Cars move slowly along College Drive during the winter storm Tuesday, Oct. 20, in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Cars move slowly along College Drive during the winter storm Tuesday, Oct. 20, in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Goddard said people are used to getting snow every year, but not in the middle of October, so driving Tuesday in the snow was “sort of out of fashion” for people.

However, even with an early and the first snowfall, Crow Wing County is ready as it sent out a notification to people right away Tuesday morning to let them know the county’s snowplows were ready to start once the snow started to accumulate. The county ended their shift at 9 p.m. Tuesday but were expected to continue at 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Goddard said it happens every year during the first snowfall where motorists are relearning to drive on the icy, slushy, snowy roads.

“What I'm very hopeful for is we'll see maybe one more warming event,” Goddard said. “Hopefully we’ll get rid of this and have a few nice days yet coming up, but then the next snowstorm, we will be back at square one again. Some people will learn by it and others it's a, you know, slower learning curve. This affects everyone and everyone who drives a vehicle needs to be aware of the driving conditions and their driving habits have to change almost overnight. One of the biggest observations that I noticed today, at the beginning of the snowstorm was people needed to turn on their headlights.”

A Central Lakes College student walks across campus Tuesday, Oct. 20, during the winter storm in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
A Central Lakes College student walks across campus Tuesday, Oct. 20, during the winter storm in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Snow totals as of 7 p.m.

  • Brainerd, 4.5 inches;

  • Nisswa, 5;

  • Motley, 3;

  • Granite Falls, 8.5;

  • Glenwood, 7.5;

  • Henderson, 7;

  • St. Augusta, 6.5;

  • Lakeville, 9;

  • Eden Prairie, 7;

  • Buffalo, 6.

  • St. Cloud, 6.4.

Average temperatures

Tuesday’s high was 34 degrees — compared to the normal high for this day being 54. The record high was 81 set in 1947 and the record low was 28 set in 1930.

The average temperature in Brainerd for the month of October is 55.6 for a high and 35 for a low. The highest temperature so far this month was 82 degrees on Oct. 9 — just 11 days ago — and the lowest was 23 degrees on Oct. 4.

MnDOT winter driving recommendations

  • Don’t drive distracted.

  • Stay alert for snowplows, which turn or exit frequently and often with little warning. They also may travel over centerlines or partially in traffic to further improve road conditions.

  • Stay back at least 10 car lengths behind the plow. Don’t drive into a snow cloud.

  • Slow down to a safe speed for current conditions.

  • Turn on your headlights and wear your seat belt.

  • Turn off the cruise control.

  • Be patient and remember snowplows are working to improve road conditions for your trip.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at jennifer.kraus@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.