Travel could be "difficult to impossible" this weekend in the Red River Valley, the National Weather Service said Thursday as a major winter storm threatened to dump sleet, freezing rain and 8 to 14 inches of snow on the region.
Senior meteorologist Dave Kellenbenz said the prolonged storm will start tonight and continue on and off through Monday morning.
"I think by Sunday night into early Monday morning, we could be looking at the potential for blizzard-like conditions, especially in the Red River Valley," he said.
The more immediate concern was freezing rain expected to start falling after 6 p.m. today.
The best chance for freezing rain is along and south of Interstate 94, with chances diminishing the closer one gets to Grand Forks, Kellenbenz said.
Ice accumulations of up to a quarter-inch are possible in extreme southeast North Dakota.
"It may change over to snow fairly quickly or it may linger Friday night into Saturday morning. We're still trying to work those details out," Kellenbenz said.
Snowfall will be heavy at times on Saturday and Sunday, with 6 to 8 inches likely and up to 14 inches possible in localized areas, he said.
Wind will pick up Sunday afternoon, with speeds of 25 to 30 mph and gusts up to 35 mph causing blowing and drifting snow and blizzard or near-blizzard conditions into Monday morning, Kellenbenz said.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation will have up to 51 workers ready to tackle the 1,800 miles of roads in its southeast district, said Bruce Nord, maintenance superintendent for the district.
"Some of our guys had other plans, and those plans have been changed because of the weather," he said.
As always, keeping Interstates 29 and 94 passable will be the top priority, he said. If freezing rain coats roads before the snow falls, plow operators will have to drive more slowly, so it may take longer to get to some areas, he said.
District supervisors were making sure fuel is available in outlying areas and checking that overhead garage doors can be opened manually in case ice-coated power lines cause electrical outages, Nord said.