No foolin’: School called off, roads close as spring blizzard strikes
Whiteout conditions reigned as a spring blizzard battered the region Monday, forcing roads and schools to close and causing widespread event cancellations.
“Once the conditions deteriorate and there’s no visibility, travel is just basically near impossible, so the best thing to do is stay home,” said Corey King, emergency response specialist and meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck.
Snowfall totals are predicted to be 6 to 10 inches for much of the area, with some locations receiving 10 to 14 inches. As such, the blizzard could potentially break the March 31 record for snowfall, which stands at 7 inches in 2009.
“Things are kind of developing in bands. … some areas will get some of the higher totals, and some areas won’t be quite as high,” King said, adding the storm was expected to cause gusts of wind up to 45 or 50 miles per hour.
The blizzard warning was set to expire at 1 a.m. today, with snow and wind gradually diminishing overnight.
“March tends to be still a fairly snowy month, and if you remember, last year in April we had a pretty good storm that went across the area as well,” King said. “I wouldn’t call (spring snowstorms) uncommon, necessarily. It’s something that we do definitely have to deal with.”
Jamestown Public Schools and buses will be two hours late today, according to Rob Lech, superintendent.
Be aware of conditions
Local officials also asked people to go home and stay there on Monday, as visibility shrunk to nothing and plows were pulled from the roads in Jamestown and elsewhere.
“Stay home if you can, and (today), just watch the weather again,” said Chad Kaiser, Stutsman County sheriff. “If you don’t need to travel out in this stuff, don’t travel.”
After a morning of bitter winds, the snow struck harder in Stutsman County starting around 10 a.m. Monday, gradually intensifying after that while the wind continued to blow.
By Monday afternoon, Interstate 94 had been closed from Bismarck to Fargo.
“Basically, visibility is down to virtually nothing, and the internal defrosters and stuff in the equipment is not keeping up. You can’t see,” said Reed Schwartzkopf, city engineer. “So we pulled everything off the road.”
City plows were still ready to respond to emergency situations and continued to coordinate with emergency services to ensure people could get to emergency destinations such as Jamestown Regional Medical Center as needed.
“It’s a ‘no travel advised’ out there anywhere in the area, and we knew it was coming … but I’d love everybody to just go home,” Schwartzkopf said Monday afternoon.
As of Monday afternoon, officials still planned to begin snow removal in downtown Jamestown at 11 p.m. Monday.
Downtown businesses have been asked to move snow off sidewalks and into the street no later than 9 p.m. today.
Residential snow removal is still slated to begin at 11 a.m. today and continue during normal working hours. Because of the weather conditions, snow gates used to prevent snow ridges at the end of driveways are being removed.
Travel alerts and no travel advisories blanketed the state throughout the day.
Interstate 29 closed from Fargo to the Canada border, and U.S. Highway 2 shut down from Devils Lake to Grand Forks due to zero visibility and snow-covered roads, the North Dakota Department of Transportation and the North Dakota Highway Patrol said.
Any motorist driving past a road closure device may be fined up to $250.
NDDOT snowplows began working early Monday morning and through the day, but by afternoon were pulled from some rural areas, including those around Jamestown, Valley City, Bismarck, Devils Lake, Grand Forks and north of Fargo. Plows were expected to resume operations when it was safe enough.
NDDOT warned that roads could become blocked overnight, particularly at bridges and sheltered areas.
“We’re kind of of the opinion that the town is shut down,” Schwartzkopf said. “… it’s pretty nasty.”
A variety of closures, cancellations and delays have already been announced:
* The Jamestown Sun did not deliver newspapers to homes today due to the closure of Interstate 94. Subscribers may access the paper through a link at www.jamestownsun.com.
* Jamestown Public Schools dismissed at 1 p.m. Monday. All planned school activities were canceled.
* The University of Jamestown closed at noon Monday.
* The University of Jamestown/ Valley City State University Job & Internship Fair in Valley City scheduled for today has been canceled, and people are encouraged to apply directly with employers at www.uj.edu/participating-employers.
* Alfred Dickey Library closed at noon, and the James River Valley Library System Library Board meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday was canceled.
* The Public Service Commission meeting slated for 9:30 a.m. today in Ellendale has been moved to 1 p.m. today at the Fireside Restaurant in Ellendale.
* The Buffalo City Tourism Marketing Committee meeting was postponed to noon today at the Tourism Office.
* Jamestown City Hall offices closed at 3 p.m. Monday.
* Stutsman County facilities closed at 1 p.m. Monday, including the Stutsman County Courthouse, Law Enforcement Center, Social Services, Road Department, North Dakota State University Extension and the Stutsman County Park Department.
* Coborn’s announced it would close at 6:45 p.m. Monday.
The Jamestown Police Department and North Dakota Highway Patrol remained open, and essential services continued operation throughout the storm.
Elsewhere in region
The blizzard warning was issued for most of North Dakota, with the counties in the northwest and north-central part of the state the only exceptions. As the storm moved east, a blizzard warning also was in effect for parts of northern and west-central Minnesota.
Michael Mathews, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, said Monday that Dickinson received as much as 10 inches of snow, with Rhame, in the far southwest corner of the state, reporting 11 inches and Glen Ullin reporting 11½.
U.S. Highway 2 was closed from Devils Lake to Grand Forks, N.D., and no travel was advised for most of northwest Minnesota.
The National Weather Service in Grand Forks reported winds gusting over 50 mph along and west of the Red River Valley. The northern part of the valley was bracing for up to 20 inches of snow.
The blizzard warning for the region was to remain in effect until 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Minnesota and South Dakota
In Minnesota, International Falls could see 12 to 15 inches and Lake of the Woods 15 to 20 inches. In central Minnesota, snowfall totals were expected to be lower, but with sleet and freezing rain mixing in.
Amid the winter blast, a tornado was reported in west-central Minnesota.
The Yellow Medicine County Sheriff ’s Office said the twister damaged at least three farm sites Monday afternoon southeast of St. Leo. No injuries were reported. The sheriff ’s office said the tornado damaged machine sheds, grain bins, outbuildings and residences.
Northeast Minnesota was getting rain, but there was concern that it may freeze on roadways, sidewalks and trees. The rain was expected to turn to all snow early Tuesday morning, with an inch or two of accumulation in the Duluth area.
Six to 10 inches of snow was forecast along the North and South Dakota border.
Phil Schumacher, a meteorologist with the weather service in Sioux Falls, S.D., said that by midafternoon Monday the storm had caused near white-out conditions farther south near Kimball and Chamberlain, where snowfall totals were smaller.
In North Dakota’s Dunn County, Emergency Manager Denise Brew said she was worried not only about people on the roads, but also ranchers in the midst of calving season. The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association had issued an advisory for livestock producers, telling them to be wary of the storm in the wake of last October’s blizzard, which killed thousands of cattle in western South Dakota and southwest North Dakota.
(Forum News Service contributed to this story)
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