More about winter weather and snow emergencies

The City provides snow and ice control in response to winter weather. Learn more about winter weather and snow emergencies.

Responding to winter weather

Snow plow on street


Whenever there’s winter weather, from freezing drizzle to a large snowstorm, City crews provide snow and ice control. When snowfall is heavy, we may declare a snow emergency so we can clear the streets, including parking lanes, as wide as possible.

Public Works has an average annual budget of $13 million for snow and ice control. We use much of this budget even if a winter has snowfall that's below average. The budget supports the cost of staff, equipment and materials to stay prepared for all winter weather events.

When we decide to call a snow emergency

Car driving in snow


No two snow events are exactly alike, and there’s no formula for declaring a snow emergency. We look at a combination of factors including: 

  • Snowfall from earlier storms
  • Current snowfall accumulation
  • Timing of the snowfall
  • Street conditions
  • Weather forecasts
  • Time of year

For example, a 3½-inch snowfall in January following some lighter snow buildup may require a snow emergency. But a 6-inch snowfall in March with warm weather expected immediately after may not.

Who declares a snow emergency

The Director of Public Works declares a Snow Emergency (City Ordinance). To inform the decision, the director talks with operational staff and other public safety officials.

How snow emergencies unfold

Snow emergency sign by mural

Typical order of events in a snow emergency

  1. When snow begins to fall, City crews start plowing and treating the busiest streets.
  2. As snow builds up, we add more plows to keep travel lanes open. 
  3. If we decide to declare a snow emergency, usually before 6 p.m. on any day, officials notify or update the City website, app, the media, and more.
  4. At 9 p.m. on Day 1, snow emergency parking rules go into effect, and we begin tagging and towing cars and plowing streets as wide as possible.   
  5. We start plowing alleys either before or at the start of Day 1. Alley plowing usually takes 12 or more hours to complete.
  6. After the snow emergency ends, we follow up with miscellaneous cleanup. This includes more plowing, sanding and salting as needed. 

What we plow

Snow plow on residential street


When we plow, we clear:

  • 1,040 miles of streets
  • 57 miles of parkways
  • 3,700 alleys (about 400 miles)
  • 100 dead-end streets and cul-de-sacs
  • 250 bridge sidewalks
  • 7 pedestrian bridges
  • 40 miles of trails and protected bike lanes

Each street has multiple lanes. This adds up to some 3,200 "lane miles" that, end to end, would stretch from Minneapolis to Seattle and back. And our 3,700 alleys make up about 400 miles — which is more miles of alley than many suburbs have streets.

Tagging and towing

We aim to provide open, drivable streets by plowing and clearing snow. To do this, we need residents to help us by following snow emergency parking rules. Towing cars is time-consuming and makes it difficult for crews to plow efficiently and well.

During a snow emergency, we can tag cars and tow them to the impound lot if they're illegally parked. Most calls about tagging and towing come from residents reporting vehicles on their street. They want illegally parked cars removed so their streets will be well plowed.  

Our roughly 80 tow trucks remove an average of 1,500 illegally parked vehicles each snow emergency.  This is only about 20% of illegally parked cars.

We do not tow vehicles for revenue

Snow emergency parking citations are issued by the authority of Hennepin County. Only a portion of the amount of a ticket comes back to the City. These funds support the snowplowing budget.

All revenue from towing and impound lot storage fees goes to pay our towing contractors and help operate and maintain the Minneapolis Impound Lot.

Contact us

Minneapolis 311


7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Monday – Friday

See list of City holidays