WILLMAR – The Minnesota Department of Transportation is advising motorists to be aware of changing weather and road conditions today and to turn on their headlights.

“Our snowplow crews are working continuously to improve travel conditions,” said Craig Gertsema, MnDOT maintenance operations superintendent.

“The one thing that our operators always ask is for motorists to manually turn on their headlights so they can be seen by the plows and other drivers,” Gertsema said.

The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for most of southwest Minnesota, including Lac qui Parle, Yellow Medicine, Chippewa, Lincoln, Pipestone, Lyon, Murray, Redwood and Renville counties.

Kandiyohi, Meeker and McLeod counties are under a winter weather advisory, with the heaviest snow expected to occur between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. today.

Strong winds and whiteout conditions are likely, especially in open areas, between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m.

The average snow plow route in District 8, which covers much of west central and southwest Minnesota, is sixty miles, round-trip, according to Sandra Schlagel, District 8 Public Affairs Coordinator.

“Some routes are considerably longer,” she said. “In good conditions it can take two and one-half hours to clear a route. In difficult conditions it can take up to four hours.”

State road crews are generally out from 3 a.m. to 10 p.m., but are oftentimes out longer if conditions require.

“Be mindful that it takes time to get roads back to good driving conditions,” Schlagel said.

MnDOT advises motorists to check road conditions before traveling. For real-time traffic and travel information in Minnesota, visit www.511mn.org or get the free smartphone app at Google Play or the App Store.

Motorists can practice good winter driving habits by following these steps:

* Allow extra time to get to your destination.

* Turn your headlights on (not simply the automatic setting) and wear your seatbelt.

* Be patient behind the wheel and remember snowplows are working to improve road conditions.

* Stay back at least 10 car lengths behind a plow, far from the snow cloud.

* Stay alert for snow plows that turn or exit frequently and often with little warning. Anticipate that plows may also travel over centerlines or partially into traffic to further improve road conditions.

* Slow down to a safe speed for current conditions.

* No texting, emailing, or internet while driving – it’s the law.