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Minneapolis has opened some 1,600 free covered parking spaces as refuges across the city as officials brace for a walloping snowstorm later this week.

Many of the spots are open now, and vehicles can remain there until 5 p.m. Feb. 28 — an extraordinary measure that underscores officials' concern the storm will stress the city's snow-clearing apparatus.

"We are putting everything we have at this storm, and we started over the weekend planning for this," Public Works Director Margaret Anderson Kelliher said at a Monday news conference with Mayor Jacob Frey.

With the potential for more than 20 inches to accumulate over several days, the question doesn't seem to be if, but when will St. Paul and Minneapolis declare snow emergencies — and how many will they declare?

Many neighborhood streets are still in sketchy shape in the wake of January's storm, which dumped 15 sopping inches in three days. City officials on Monday implored residents to make plans now in preparation for what could be days of being socked in.

"There is no perfect way to respond in an extraordinary event, meaning there will be messiness, and it will take a while," Sean Kershaw, St. Paul's director of public works, said Monday.

Parking refuges

The following Minneapolis locations, some publicly owned and some privately owned, are open for all residents:

  • The Vineland Ramp at 727 Vineland Place adjacent to the Walker Art Center (671 spots).
  • The farmer's market lot under I-94 at 225 E. Lyndale Av. (309 spots).
  • The Salvation Army lot at 601 N. Fourth St. (332 spaces).
  • The Lyn-Lake lot at 2940 S. Garfield Av. (118 spaces).
  • Seven Points Parking Ramp at 1375 W 31st St.
  • MoZaic Art Parking Ramp at 1340 Lagoon Ave.

Additionally, the Basilica lot under Interstate 94 at 13 N. 17th St. will offer 183 spots beginning Wednesday evening after Ash Wednesday services have concluded at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

All spaces will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, Kelliher said.

The spots are intended to free up space for vehicles ahead of a snow emergency, which will "very likely" be declared Wednesday morning, Kelliher said.

On Tuesday afternoon St. Paul announced it would open eight ramps for free parking during the storm. Beginning Wednesday at 5 p.m., residents may enter and park their vehicles until Saturday morning. Details can be found at

As far as snow emergencies, public works officials from both cities emphasize that they hadn't made any final decisions Monday, but here's what we know so far and what they're thinking:

Three-day storm

In addition to a shovel-worthy dusting Monday morning, this storm will come in two major phases:

  • Tuesday night through Wednesday morning: 3-7 inches.
  • Wednesday afternoon through Thursday afternoon: 7-13 additional inches.

Some models show a grand total of 19-25 inches when all is said and done.

Under normal circumstances, either of those accumulations would justify a snow emergency.

Back-to-back emergencies?

You see that window Wednesday after the first wave and before the next wave? That could be an opportunity for one snow emergency. If the second wave dumps anywhere near as much as forecast, a second snow emergency would follow.

Kelliher said another possibility is ending one emergency early before starting another one partway through the first.

Back-to-back snow emergencies are rare but not unprecedented.

In late February 2018, both cities declared two snow emergencies in a single week after two successive storms dumped plowable snow.

In the January storm, some residents complained that neither city called a snow emergency earlier. Officials have said they felt they couldn't spare the plows on the side streets until they had a handle on the major routes.

"The key factors are bodies and trucks, and that's what's in short supply," Kershaw said, emphasizing that drivers need rest and plows and trucks need to be serviced in the midst of round-the-clock work.

The most basic goal is to make all streets passable — not to bare pavement, but safely passable — for emergency vehicles, officials said.

Kershaw acknowledged that as soon as snow starts accumulating, the clock starts ticking for neighborhood side streets.

"What we want to avoid is the scenario where people need to move their cars and can't," he said.

Minneapolis' special rules

In late January, Minneapolis instituted one-sided parking for most residential streets, which were narrowed by snowbanks from earlier storms.

Those remain in effect. However, when Minneapolis declares a snow emergency (or emergencies) this week, those restrictions will be waived for the duration of the emergency to make sure there's enough real estate for people to stash their cars temporarily.