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Winter storm watches have been issued in parts of Minnesota ahead of a late-week snowstorm, while there has been a shift in the rain system set to hit the state midweek.

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Snow forecast

The National Weather Service has a winter storm watch now in effect in a vast swath of the state, stretching from west-central to far northeastern Minnesota.

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The system that is also bringing rain starting Tuesday to Minnesota is now expected to turn to snow earlier than previously expected, with the NWS saying it will shift to a mix of snow, freezing rain, and possibly sleet between 9 a.m. and noon Thursday before moving to snow – heavy at times on Thursday afternoon.

With winds gusts of up to 50 mph also expected, there are advisories in place about blowing snow and blizzard-like conditions. The heavy snow will continue on Friday morning, turning patchy in the afternoon before finishing on Friday night.

A current look at the snow models shows that the worst-hit parts of northern Minnesota could see anything from 9-14 inches of snow based on a 10:1 moisture ratio, though as we've seen in recent years, those totals tend to get revised down as the models get more accurate the closer we get to the storm.

As for the Twin Cities, it's looking as though there could be a light coating of snow but barely anything measurable, with the gradient for accumulating snow tapering off north of Mille Lacs Lake.

The system will usher in the Twin Cities' first real cold snap of the fall however, with daytime temperatures at or around freezing expected over the weekend and into next week, with temperatures also expected to be below average for the next 8-10 days.

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What about the rain?

The Twin Cities and parts of southern Minnesota are in dire need of rain following a prolonged summer drought.

The news on Tuesday morning isn't that great though, with the rain and thunderstorm system set to arrive Tuesday afternoon and continue on and off till Thursday having shifted a little north.

That means larger parts of southern Minnesota that need the rain are now in the "less than an inch" area, while the edge of the system has moved close to the Twin Cities.

The NWS says there will be a "very sharp gradient" in the storm system that develops Wednesday night – when the heaviest rain is expected – and it is a little make-of-break for the drought-hit metro area.

The service notes the gradient will be "near or just north" of the drought region, and at this time there is "low confidence" about how much rain will fall in the metro.

This means "we'll end up with this rain and get 2-3", or we'll see those values up from St. Cloud to Cambridge, with rain totals in the Twin Cities down closer to a half inch," the NWS forecast discussion says.

Based on a recent model run, "there's definitely a slight favoring toward that drier outcome for MSP."

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