How dangerous is this?
December 22, 2022 10:53 AM   Subscribe

We planned to fly from San Francisco to Minneapolis tomorrow afternoon, then drive north and stay for the night. What exactly is going on weather-wise?

Here we are in California with nary a care in the world. If our flight is cancelled or delayed, we’ll live. But if not, we’re trying to figure out the likelihood / what we should perhaps do differently for safety.

Ideally we would have traveled earlier in the week, but it wasn’t possible. We’re booking a hotel room in Minneapolis for Friday night, because it seems unsafe to drive north at night in the extreme wind / cold? Is flying even safe, if our flight is not delayed or canceled? I keep thinking about a plane trying to land in extreme winds and getting freaked out.

Is there a way to get succinct, relevant weather updates? Somehow everything I search on, etc. is outrageous headlines and out-of-date National Weather Service warnings.
posted by stoneandstar to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: We moved my mom's trip from nearby up to today from tomorrow because weather tomorrow looked so bad. If you don't mind the risk of the flight being cancelled, book a hotel room at MSP (you probably won't even want to drive from the airport to the city) for Friday night and roll the dice. But odds are good that it will be cancelled. That's a much much higher likelihood than that your flight will be dangerous--that's why they cancel.
posted by praemunire at 11:01 AM on December 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You can go straight to the source and go to the National Weather Service, and click on the area you’re going to. At the bottom of the page there should be a link called Forecast Discussion. That’ll be the most up-to-date opinion of conditions.

But I would be very surprised if anyone is landing at MSP tomorrow.
posted by hwyengr at 11:02 AM on December 22, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Local National Weather Service forecast office:

For the lay person, read the Weather Story on the bottom left of the page

For more (meteorological) details, read the forecast discussion
posted by paradeofblimps at 11:05 AM on December 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I meant to add, the snow is stopping but the winds are picking up, so the blowing snow on the ground is going to kill visibility.

Which also makes any drive north of Mpls dangerous.
posted by hwyengr at 11:05 AM on December 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Watch the local news! When the weather is like this, it’s a top news story. Twin Cities stations include Kare 11 and WCCO. You could also check MNDOT for up-to-date road conditions.

Do you have adequate winter clothing? If not, that’s what would make driving risky, in addition to high winds. Are you experienced with winter driving? I wouldn’t want to encounter ice for the first time under high winds.

I’d say leave the evaluation of flying safety to the experts. They have seen this before, and they know what they are doing. The airline industry has the most effective safety regulations of any industry I know of. I agree there is a good likelihood your flight will be canceled.
posted by Comet Bug at 11:07 AM on December 22, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The local NWS Twitter for each city (for the Twin Cities, @NWSTwinCities) tends to be reliable for weather updates. They're predicting a lot of blowing snow into Saturday morning and they are urging people not to travel.

If it's dangerous, your flight is probably going to be canceled. If your flight isn't canceled, I think you should plan to get a hotel room as close to the airport as possible.
posted by Jeanne at 11:10 AM on December 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in Chicago. Quite a few people I know went ahead and preemptively cancelled their travels plans this past weekend, figuring even an imperfect Christmas at home was better that a potential Christmas stuck in an airport. I'm not traveling this holiday, but if I had planned to I would have cancelled as well. I hate hate hate weather stress and feeling stranded/stuck.

I think a lot of folks are just gonna do an Xmas Lite with their extended family in January when the forecast is less dire.
posted by phunniemee at 11:24 AM on December 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I live in St. Paul. Besides the NWS Twin Cities Twitter account, you could read the MPR Updraft Blog, which just updated at 12:30 pm Central today.

Everyone I know is hunkering down, canceling plans through Saturday morning, etc. Even if you can fly in, I would not recommend trying to drive any distance tomorrow, especially if you're not a highly experienced winter driver.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 11:29 AM on December 22, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Also, if you end up driving, make sure you have a phone with a reliable battery or a car charger. The cold drains batteries, especially aging ones. If the rental doesn’t come with a windshield scraper, you should probably buy one (at a gas station, hardware store, Target, or a grocery store). But really, if this is new information to you, I can’t recommend the drive. A school bus tipped over yesterday (everyone was okay).
posted by Comet Bug at 11:33 AM on December 22, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I heard something on NPR that many airlines are offering refunds or credits to any customer that requests it, because they are anticipating this will be such a mess anyway they don't particularly want jammed airports. So, worth calling your airline and checking.
posted by coffeecat at 11:39 AM on December 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Does driving on Saturday look OK so far? What about Sunday? (Obviously can’t know for sure, but looking for experience from people used to these types of events.)

My family is pretty flexible with when we celebrate Christmas and we’ll be up for the week, plus we don’t have any layovers, so we want to find a balance of don’t push it + end up in the Midwest when we safely can.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:39 AM on December 22, 2022

Best answer: Right now it looks like the storm is forecasted to go through Friday night. So Saturday afternoon travel will probably be doable, if not pleasant, around the Twin Cities and airport, but maybe not in a more rural area, if that's where you're heading (as it sounds like it might be). I almost advised you to book two nights at MSP above.

Most airlines are offering change fee and fare difference waivers, so if you'd rather enjoy your weekend in sunny CA than in MSP limbo, you should probably move your flight to Sunday.
posted by praemunire at 11:45 AM on December 22, 2022

Best answer: I’m elsewhere in the Midwest, but looking at the Minneapolis weather forecast it looks like the winds will die down by Saturday afternoon-ish. If I were you, I would try to move the flight to no earlier than Saturday, and do the drive Saturday afternoon or Sunday. I think flights will be normal-ish (aside from logistics caused by canceled flights) Sunday.
posted by maleficent at 11:48 AM on December 22, 2022

Best answer: The FAA has info at and that might be useful. Be aware too that if your plane is coming info from elsewhere, delays can occur at SFO as well. I've used FlightAware for that

Driving once the storm is passed will require info on snow amounts and road conditions. If you grew up there, esp recently, you may be OK but if you're not used it, it can be challenging. Stay alert for black ice.

Best of luck!
posted by beaning at 12:16 PM on December 22, 2022

Best answer: Just another datapoint: I live in Madison and we’re weighing whether to bail on plans today happening 2 miles from our house. I think you won’t regret pushing this out a few days. Our winter storm warning down here in WI ends at 6 am on Saturday (or so claims my weather app).
posted by eirias at 12:16 PM on December 22, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I didn't see anyone link 511 MN, our Department of Transportation's road conditions map. I won't take a purple one unless dire. You might consider avoiding pink since you aren't from around here.

Make sure you have warm enough clothes to stay warm if you car goes off the road. If you do go off the road and need to keep the car on for warmth, check that the tail pipe is clear from drifted snow every half hour or so. Have food and water in the main passenger compartment in case of emergency.

If you can wait until Saturday, that looks like a much better plan. The wind when you get out of the city is fierce. So much farm land without much windbreak. This can drift up snow on the roads that were recently cleared, and if it's still blowing, you might not be able to see it until you've already hit it. Ground blizzards are terrible driving. Several friends and coworkers have had their families call and say not to come today since the local roads are impassable. In the city things look pretty good, but those last miles apparently aren't very good right now.
posted by advicepig at 12:38 PM on December 22, 2022 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Consider also double checking your car rental. I don't think they can not rent to you if weather is bad but you may want to upgrade your rental, review it's amenities re GPS and space for emergency supplies (which may mean a side trip before you get out of the city). Also review roadside assistance policies with both your own insurance and the rental agency.
posted by beaning at 12:49 PM on December 22, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I live in St. Paul and would not modify my travel plans in any way, if I didn't have small children I would most likely have driven at least an hour to be skiing right now. Native Minnesotans are quite overcautious about driving in any sort of weather, it's one of many odd things about the monoculture here. I drove to the Mall of America this morning and many people are going 45 on the very well plowed interstate in bluebird weather, in Utah or Colorado they'd be going faster in active snowfall. (When the roads are totally free of snow everyone will resume driving 70 in all the posted 55 zones. The speed limit is apparently never correct!)

There is no snow in the forecast and even if there were they do a fantastic job keeping the roads clear.
posted by Kwine at 12:49 PM on December 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Friendly counterpoint to Kwine: as a native, I *learned* to be cautious after having two pretty bad accidents due to very cold temps/icy roads in college! I also work with transportation safety researchers, who would say that there's nothing wrong with being cautious or even overcautious when driving. :) This is especially true when the NWS is saying that travel could be life-threatening, and the drivers in question will ostensibly be in rural areas and might not have a ton of winter driving experience.

I'd say driving on Sunday should be okay, with the caveat that I can only speak for Twin Cities roadways and can't predict what things will look like north. Regardless of when you come to Minnesota, drive carefully!
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 2:06 PM on December 22, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Here's what the NWS Twin Cities current forecast discussion says as of 2:21 pm:
- Life threatening conditions will arrive with increasing winds,
decreasing wind chills, and significantly reduced visibility
overnight. Stranded travelers could be susceptible to hypothermia
and frostbite within minutes.

- The worst conditions are expected Friday afternoon through Saturday
morning, with gusts peaking at 45-50mph. Please do not travel.

- A clipper system will bring light snow Sunday night into Monday
morning, causing slick conditions for the Monday morning commute.

- A pattern shift will warm temperatures significantly next week,
with highs by Wednesday in the low to mid 30s.
I'd be most worried about whiteouts. As an experienced winter driver, I think I'd be OK in the current forecast flying in a day later and driving on Sunday when things have cleared but before the evening light snow sets in.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:27 PM on December 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

Sounds like you're rescheduling, which is good! But I wanted to respond to this:

Make sure you have warm enough clothes to stay warm if you car goes off the road.

I'm not really sure what this looks like at -1°F with a -20°F windchill.

For context, my superpower is that I'm freakishly well-adapted to running (slowly) in insanely cold weather. In weather like this, I wear two layers of insulated UnderArmor "Cold Gear" tights, wind-breaker track pants, 2 heavy wool baselayer shirts, a fleece pullover, a fleece vest, and a windbreaker jacket, a balaklava with a wool hat over it, and wool gloves under heavy fleece mittens. And I'm COLD for the first mile. If I were sitting still in this kind of weather I would need much more clothes.

I just walked home tonight (0°F, -15°F windchill) in heavy (too warm for temps over 40°) jeans, a heavy wool baselayer shirt, a cotton flannel shirt (I know, not very high-performance), a heavyweight hoodie with a shearling lining, and a down parka, insulated winter boots, and wool mittens. The wind was at my back, which was a blessing. After 2 blocks I wished I had worn my wool long johns. After 4 blocks I could definitely feel that I was losing heat from my core. Luckily it was a short walk and I was moving briskly.

Imagine you have an accident or mechanical failure, and you are in an unfamiliar area, which may or may not have cell service. You may or may not be able to start the engine to run the heater. You need to stay in the car, so no exercising to get your temperature up. The car will block the wind, but even so, the temperature inside the car will drop quickly. If it is hazardous driving weather, emergency crews will be busy and could be slow to respond.

I'm glad you have the flexibility to plan your trip to be safer!
posted by BrashTech at 3:55 PM on December 22, 2022 [13 favorites]

That’s a great point BrashTech, and if you aren’t from here, you’d have no way of knowing what that’s like. Shoot, most of my friends aren’t the type that would know this either. I guess I spend a lot of time outside not doing much in the winter.
posted by advicepig at 4:27 PM on December 22, 2022

Best answer: Re Flying: It's rare that MSP shuts down, and then it's only for heavy falling snow for a few hours. At this point you're far more likely to have your flight affected due to cascading effects of this giant weather system dumping snow in other parts of the country. If your flight remains scheduled, you'll make it in, but it'll be bumpy and feel like you're getting tossed around. Outside chance the pilot will abort and circle for a second try if the winds get squirrely. Forecast winds are in good harmony with main MSP runway alignment so the winds (or, specifically, lack of a large crosswind component) shouldn't be too much of an issue. Coming in is better than going out as you won't face a delay sitting on the de-ice pad.

Re Driving: As for MN511 linked above, take those winter road conditions with a giant grain of salt and expect them to be worse than they indicate. Here is an example of a camera on a north metro road currently labeled Green / 'Dry Pavement'. As you can see, this is flat out BS. You'd do better to use the Camera / Plow Camera layers to get a real picture of what to expect. Driving will be dicey Friday but mostly due to visibility, and deep drifts in open areas particularly south and west. We are in the far north metro and plan to travel south into the cities on Saturday, and more family will come up here Sunday, and as all native MN drivers we're not worried. If you plan to stay overnight near MSP and drive north on Saturday, you should be OK if you take it easy and have a good winter kit in the car.
posted by SquidLips at 8:32 PM on December 22, 2022

Best answer: My family is all in St. Paul.

My mom told me an hour ago that Door Dash has suspended deliveries, and it's too cold for the salt to melt the glare ice on all the roads.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:22 AM on December 23, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: We ended up flying in Friday with only a slight 20 min delay, and drove up Saturday morning. City streets weren’t great but the freeways were good. A couple of cars in the ditch but that’s not a rareity in my experience. Celebrated Christmas Eve and sticking around for awhile until warmer days when we fly out. Thanks everyone for the perspective! And especially SquidLips, that’s the kind of info I wish they had on the news.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:47 PM on December 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

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