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High winds causing snowdrifts, reduced visibility a concern for Highway Patrol

The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory Monday, Jan. 17, that said wind gusts up to 50 mph are possible from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 18.

030618.N.JS.SnowInterstate File Photo
Drifting snow, reduced visibility and potential for more vehicle breakdowns are some concerns that the North Dakota Highway Patrol has when there are high wind gusts mixed with lower temperatures, according to Capt. Bryan Niewind.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun file photo
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Some of the biggest issues with lower temperatures and high wind gusts during the winter are blowing snow that creates snowdrifts on highways, reduced visibility and potentially more vehicle breakdowns, according to Capt. Bryan Niewind with the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory Monday, Jan. 17, that said wind gusts up to 50 mph are possible from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 18. Dickey, Foster, LaMoure, Stutsman and Wells counties are included in the winter weather advisory.

“The reason for the winter weather advisory is that we expect that there will be some blowing snow with it due to the more recent snows you’ve had (in the Jamestown area),” he said.

The winter weather advisory said areas of blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility with wind gusts creating hazardous driving conditions especially for high-profile vehicles, which are vehicles that have high sides, such as a semitrailer hauling a mobile home or a truck that has a cargo box on the back that could be affected by strong winds. Falling temperatures through the day will also result in frigid wind chills developing.

The forecast for Tuesday calls for a high of about 28 by 9 a.m. then falling to about 6 during the day. A low of about minus 12 is expected Tuesday evening with wind chills as low as minus 30.

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“It will be nearly 40 below wind chills in the Jamestown area Wednesday morning,” said James Talken, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “And the same again for Wednesday night and Thursday morning, you will probably see wind chills near 40 below.”

He said a northwestern airflow that moves from the northwest to the southeast is bringing some colder Canadian air to the area.

“Initially tomorrow (Tuesday) there will be low pressure that comes through there,” Talken said. “That’s where your cold front will be from and behind that high pressure works in and that is when you start getting your extra cold temperatures. You bring all that arctic air from Canada.”

On Wednesday, expect a high near minus 6 with winds of 17 to 21 mph and gusts as high as 32 mph. The temperature Wednesday evening will be about minus 23.

On Thursday, the high is expected to be near zero. The low on Thursday night will be around minus 10 with winds of 13 to 18 mph and gusts as high as 29 mph.

Talken said there is a chance of light snow on Thursday evening into Friday morning.

“One good thing is temperatures do warm up a little bit,” he said. “On Friday, highs are back in the 30s.”

Anytime there are bad weather events, the patrol will release information to let the public know what the agency is seeing and when the weather will ease up, Niewind said.

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“We follow the National Weather Service with any warnings they are pushing out,” he said.

He said the patrol will provide information about high-wind warnings to commercial motor vehicles traveling in North Dakota.

“We will not stop them from traveling unless we close a road,” he said. “We will provide warnings to them, identifying when you are traveling through a specific portion in North Dakota that there is going to be some issues with winds.”

He said certain loads require permits in North Dakota so there are requirements on those permits for the driver to stop driving if the winds are over a certain speed or visibility is lost within a half of a mile.

“We do restrict the movements of some vehicles during the high wind and weather events,” he said. “Those are vehicles that require a special permit like an oversized load, something that’s larger than a normal vehicle traveling down the road.”

What to do in case of mechanical breakdown

Niewind said vehicles with diesel motors have more potential to gel up when the temperatures are below zero. He said additives can be used, and diesel #1 that has a lower freezing point can be put in the vehicle.

“We still see individuals that do gel up on the side of the road,” he said. “Those become life-threatening-type incidents for those individuals.”

Niewind said vehicles seem to break down more often when the temperatures are really low. He said motorists who experience a mechanical breakdown, especially with really low temperatures, should call 911 and inform the person what type of mechanical breakdown it is.

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“That 911 call will pinpoint exactly where you are based on your cellphone and the GPS coordinates for that,” he said. “ … Do you need immediate assistance or do you still have heat and we have a little bit of time to get to you because in those cold temperatures, the inside of the vehicles can get cold very quickly and that becomes life threatening. If we get there and you have to wait for a tow truck, we will make sure you are inside the vehicle.”

Travel tips

If there is a need to travel, individuals should plan ahead by checking the National Weather Service forecast and travel information maps for the area they are in and their destination, Niewind said. He said conditions can change on any trip.

“You can be on the western side of the state, and it might be sunshine and maybe a little bit warmer,” he said. “You travel more to the eastern side of the state, it might be quite a bit cooler, you might have some snow and some winds.”

Motorists should make sure to turn their headlights and taillights on, he said. Even with automatic lights, headlights and taillights don’t always automatically turn on in the daylight when the visibility is poor.

“That gives other traffic that is coming up behind you or approaching you the ability to see you with those lights on,” he said. “Don’t assume they will turn on because they will not.”

He also said road conditions change from quarter mile to quarter mile. He advised motorists not to use cruise control during the winter.

“Pay attention when you are driving to the feel of that car, keep your cruise control off and drive to those conditions,” he said.

Niewind also said motorists need to make sure they are wearing their seat belts.

“You never know when a crash might happen,” he said. “Somebody could strike you, you could lose control, a tire could fall off our vehicle. You never know when something might happen. Make sure you are wearing your seat belt because the safest place you can be is inside that car.”

Masaki Ova joined The Jamestown Sun in August 2021 as a reporter. He grew up on a farm near Pingree, N.D. He majored in communications at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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