Stark County officials caution residents that, though the area has suffered harsh winter weather, the county has yet to see the worst of North Dakota storms, in a meeting on Wednesday.
They urged citizens to stock up on groceries and emergency supplies in the event of power outages or blocked roadways. People have been barricaded in their residences without electricity for days in the past, said Al Heiser, the county's roads superintendent.
"So people have to be a little bit prepared, to stock up on a few groceries," he said. "Be prepared to be blocked in maybe for two to three days depending on the type of storm. We're pretty early in our snow season yet."
Sheriff Terry Oestreich said county residents need to take some personal responsibility in ensuring they and their families have the necessary supplies to brave the storms to come.
"We've had some bad snowstorms, but we really haven't had a bad three or four-day blizzard, and that's a real reality here," Oestreich said. "If you moved here from Tennessee or from Georgia or Oklahoma, that's a reality here, and electricity can be out for three or four days. No matter how hard those guys work, that can happen."
The roads department currently has more than 20 people working and operating machines to clear the roads during the day, Heiser said. The problem is that there is already so much snow on the ground that the wind blows around causing snow drifts in the roads. When the ditches are full or the snow is piled up beside the roadways it makes it easier for snow to drift back across and narrows the path.
"We're trying to get there as efficiently as we can," Heiser said. "I mean we're running 12 motor graders, three loaders and three and four plow trucks every storm when it hits. ... What we need is we need a break. We need a little bit of time, not necessarily to clear the roads off but to go out and push back, widen the spots that are crowding in."
As a result of the snow buildup, it will take the county longer to dig people out, Heiser said.
He also asked that citizens refrain from piling up the snow from their driveways, walkways and yards on the sides of the road because snowplows can hit these frozen mounds and spin into ditches.
Piling up the snow is considered a Class B misdemeanor and can result in a fine of up to $1,000 and 30 days in jail. Violators may also be subjected to paying the costs of damages to the equipment or operator.
However, Heiser noted that his crew will respond immediately if they are called to help plow a path for emergency services. In the past, members of the roads department slept in the shop in order to be available for an emergency situation during a winter storm, he said.
"If it's an emergency, I don't care if it's day or night, we're going to go, but groceries is something that can be prevented from happening," Heiser said.
The officials also asked that residents respect the no travel advisories and only take to the roads if they are essential personnel or if there is an emergency. Oestreich said he has had officers helping pull people out who were simply driving around town for fun during a storm. He said such decisions put the emergency responders in danger as well.
"A little common sense goes a long ways," Heiser said. "If people venture out to get somewhere in a major blizzard, it's not only their life that they're putting in jeopardy, it's the guy that has to come and rescue them too."
Oestreich also cautioned drivers to slow down and give themselves extra reaction time when slowing down or turning to decrease their chances of sliding.
Bill Fahlsing, the county's director of emergency services, said people need to have enough non-perishable food for each member of the household for at least 72 hours as well as at least one gallon of water per person per day. People also need to make sure they have enough prescription medication, diapers and formula for infants and food for pets.
Oestreich added that people also needed to consider alternative means of heating their homes if the power goes out.
"If you don't have a generator or an auxiliary source of electricity, you need to have a plan to keep your house, how you're going to keep it warm, if the electricity goes out for a couple of days because that's the reality," he said.
Fahlsing also noted that people should consider an alternative communication plan in case they are unable to charge their cell phones, such as staying with friends and family members in town when there is a threat of an impending storm.
Citizens should also monitor the changing weather conditions, he said. Meteorologists usually can predict the severity and timing of winter storms, something less common with summer storms, he said.
If residents need to reach the roads department they can call 701-456-7662. The messages left at this number are monitored 24/7, Heiser said.
Heiser said his department's goal is ultimately to keep people safe, though he cautioned that these wintery conditions are likely only going to get worse.
"Sometimes we can't control what happens, and Mother Nature is one of them," he said. "... I can't praise our crew enough. We have a good crew. ... They understand what it takes to get it done."