President’s Day blizzard wreaks havoc on region
School’s cancelled – roads closed
REGION – What can only be described as an “old fashioned blizzard” had folks in a large portion of North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota hunkered down for much of Sunday evening through the early morning hours Tuesday, making the “President’s Day Blizzard” one of record.
The storm brought with it more than nine inches of snow to parts of the Red River Valley, with five to six inches more common in Walsh County. Along with the snow, strong winds caused whiteout conditions in open areas for nearly a 24-hour period, as well as life threating wind chills.
In a statement released Monday at 9:35 p.m., the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDOT) informed the public that Highway 81, approximately two miles north of Minto, was blocked by a huge snowdrift making the roadway impassible.
Earlier in the day at 10 a.m., the NDOT closed I-29 from Grand Forks to the Canadian border. That stretch of roadway didn’t open up until mid-morning on Tuesday. During the storm, the NDOT issued a no travel advisory for much of eastern North Dakota as far west as Valley City.
The Walsh and Pembina county sheriff’s departments departments also warned people to stay off the roadways.
On Monday, Grafton closed school along with every school district in the northern Red River Valley. It also postponed the championship round of the District 4 Boys’ Basketball Tournament in Grafton.
On Monday in Grafton the high temperature was 24 degrees but sustained winds in excess of 35 miles-per-hour plunged the wind chill well below zero. The overnight low Monday was seven below. Wind chill indexes of more than 30 below zero persisted through Tuesday.
According to Walsh County Highway Superintendent Sharon Lipsh, the continued windy conditions Tuesday made cleanup in the county difficult.
“We had trouble on a lot of our bridges,” Lipsh said. “Some were passable, some weren’t. I also got a report that County Road 19 by Fordville was plugged solid.”
According to Lipsh, county plows weren’t on the roads Monday and didn’t go out until 7 a.m., Tuesday because of the dangerous conditions.
She said crews did their best to widen roads but that in several cases, roads closed up nearly as fast as they were opened.
The treacherous conditions caused several motorists to drive into the ditch and become otherwise stranded. The slippery roads left in the wake of the storm also spawned several traffic accidents.
A dramatic, but non-life threatening accident occurred on I-29 near Drayton at approximately 10:19 a.m., Tuesday.
According to the official report by the North Dakota Highway Patrol (NDHP), the accident involving five vehicles including two semi trucks caused a chain reaction of crashes. All but one vehicle had to be towed from the scene. Two injured drivers were transported by Valley Ambulance and Rescue and Drayton Quick Response to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks where they were treated for minor injuries.
Traffic was backed up for several miles while emergency crews cleared the roadway of vehicles and debris. The crash remains under investigation by the NDHP.