Fifth blizzard of winter season blows through
Several motorists stranded in Walsh County Sunday
REGION – The fifth blizzard of the 2013-2014 winter season swept through the region on Sunday prompting the cancellation of Sunday worship services and disruption of travel plans due to the closing of major highways.
The lingering effects of the “Alberta Clipper” type system also forced the majority of schools in northeastern North Dakota to start school two hours late on Monday morning as roads were still in the process of being cleared and wind chills hovered in the minus 40 to 50 degree range.
During the ground blizzard Sunday, no-travel advisories were issued for the eastern two-thirds of North Dakota, a portion of northeastern South Dakota and much of western Minnesota. Interstate 29 from the Canadian Border to Brookings, S.D. was ordered closed during the day as well as most of Interstate 94 in North Dakota and a portion of U.S. Highway 2.
A weak weather disturbance caused high winds last Friday with plenty of blowing and drifting snow. That was followed by a relatively quiet, but cold Saturday with temperatures barely above freezing.
Late Saturday afternoon and early that evening, approximately three to four inches of snow fell across the region providing ammunition for the predicted ground blizzard Sunday.
Because of the fresh layer of snow, bitterly cold temperatures and winds approaching 50 miles per hour, the National Weather Service, in it’s blizzard warning Saturday, cautioned that Sunday’s storm had the potential to be the worst of the season.
Sunday dawned clear and cold as Grafton’s low temperature was recorded at minus 16 degrees. Winds around 25 miles-per-hour were already creating dangerous wind chills and visibility problems in open country, however the sustained winds in excess of 40 miles-per-hour didn’t kick in until mid to late morning.
According to Walsh County Sheriff Lauren Wild, several travelers disregarded the no-travel advisory issued for the county and had to be rescued on the roadways in the county.
“We spent all day out on the road,” he said. “It started out a little after 10 (a.m.) where a semi went into the ditch north of Minto. Right around noon is when the calls really started to come in. It was just a long day.”
According to Wild, the majority of calls within Walsh County were from Interstate 29 before it was shutdown of cars going into the ditch. He said some people were taken to Grand Forks by the highway patrol. Some others were brought to Grafton and in another case the motorists were able to get their car started and followed a state snowplow to Drayton.
Wild said there was also a call out approximately four miles west of Grafton where another car drove into the ditch.
“It was so bad you could see from one yellow line to the next on Highway 17,” he said. “We were following the crack in the middle of the road where the two sets of pavement meet and there were times we couldn’t even see that. We simply had to stop.”
According to Wild, the most important thing motorists can do if they become stuck is to stay with their vehicle.
“And if you have a cell phone, keep us informed,” he said. “We had one guy who called at 3:30 in the morning and we couldn’t get out to get to him.”
In that case, the motorist had plenty of fuel in his car as well as food and warm clothing and was able to wait it out until a snowplow arrived to get him out of the drift.
Along with the whiteout conditions there were areas of extensive drifting in the country and in town.
“I came across on Walsh County Road 19 from Fordville to Forest River (Monday) and I was astounded at the distances that were blocked until the plows were able to clear them,” he said.
According to Grafton City Administrator Nick Ziegelmann plows went out at midnight early Monday morning after the blizzard warning was lifted to get a start on removing snow for morning traffic.
Unlike some cities, Ziegelmann said the city has about 35 to 40 percent of its stockpile of sand left to deal with icy roads. He also said there is currently adequate money in the street department’s general fund to cover the expense of snow removal.
The Polar Vortex will continue to keep things uncomfortable over the next several days. The official low temperature in Grafton was minus 23 on Monday with the high only reaching minus 10.
A slight reprieve is expected today (Wednesday), but the temperatures are expected to drop again Thursday with a high of minus two and overnight lows in the double digits below zero through the weekend.