More snow, more problems: Dickinson has already surpassed last year’s snowfall

The Dickinson area has more than doubled the snowfall this winter compared with last year's. Between 30 and 35 inches of snowfall has hit the area this winter while only 15 inches were reported last year. Bismarck has experienced 53 inches of sno...

State and local agencies issue no travel advisories to help ensure the public's and the emergency responders' safety. (iStock Photo)
State and local agencies issue no travel advisories to help ensure the public's and the emergency responders' safety. (iStock Photo)

The Dickinson area has more than doubled the snowfall this winter compared with last year's.

Between 30 and 35 inches of snowfall has hit the area this winter while only 15 inches were reported last year.

Bismarck has experienced 53 inches of snowfall so far.
Patrick Ayd, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Weather Service in Bismarck, said that Mother Nature may be giving residents a few weeks to recoup from the winter blizzards.

"We normally quiet down in January, and that seems to be occurring now," he said. "It's fairly normal for this part of the community."

Ayd said that the past series of storms have caused snow across much of the state because of a shift in the storm patterns.


"The storm track has lined up so that it seems like almost every week we have been getting a storm that has been tracking the whole area," he said. "Sometimes we see a track that would typically be more off to the eastern side of the state because it is colder and sees more snowfall, but we've seen more of a westward shift in the pattern as of late."

Ayd said that snowpacks in Asia and Canada combined with a weak La Nina, the counterpart of El Nino, brings cooler than average sea temperatures to land, have combined to cause a cool winter with snow activity.

"All of those things can play into our hand of making our winters potentially more harsh," he said.

Jamie Olson, spokesman for the North Dakota Department of Transportation, said that the conditions this winter have caused an increase in no travel advisories and road closures compared with last year.

"When we do issue a no travel advisory it really is something to be taken seriously. We really don't want people to travel," she said. "If a plow driver is not able to see or not able to get through those conditions, then certainly a person in a car or a regular vehicle won't be able to get through those conditions."

She said that NDDOT works with numerous people to make those calls on issuing advisories or road closures.

"We work with the Highway Patrol and our operators and our maintenance crews to determine that 'Now, it's time where we shut it down,'" she said. "Sometimes we just issue no travel advisories for a portion of it. These have been pretty widespread and have affected almost all of the state."

She said that it is not uncommon for advisories and closures to occur throughout the winter, but that these last round of storms have been massive.


"These storms that have happened have taken over the state, and that's not always the case," she said.

Olson said that people are used to extreme weather conditions in the state from blizzards to flooding and sometimes, including last year, with little to no snow.

"You live in North Dakota. This is what you deal with," she said.

Emergency workers brave the storms

At the local level, Stark County Sheriff Terry Oestreich, Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger and the county's Emergency Manager Bill Fahlsing all share information when issuing no travel advisories for the city and county, though those two decisions are made separately.

Maj. Fern Moser, from the sheriff's office, said that one of the majors would make the call for the county in Oestreich's absence.

Unless the storm is too treacherous, deputies from the sheriff's office will take to the roads to inspect the conditions and visibility before making a determination, Moser said. Some deputies live in different parts of the county, so fellow officers may call them to find out about the road conditions in different areas.

The sheriff or majors will also contact surrounding counties to find out whether they think a no travel advisory or other warnings are necessary.


"Nobody likes to close a road per se, unless it's being detrimental to everything as far as, not just for those who are getting stuck, but for those who have to go and try to get them as well," Moser said. "We don't want anybody to get hurt, and we don't want to have one of our people get hurt trying to go save those that are in trouble as well."

After storms, or whenever possible, the sheriff's office will also drive around, especially on the interstate, to see if anyone is stuck on the side of the road. They make sure there is no one inside the vehicle, note the vehicle's description and location and then send the information back to dispatch to log.

Though the sheriff's office has been helping secure the protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline, Moser said the department has never been unable to provide proper services to the county.

"Are we shorthanded? Yes," Moser said. "Are we shorthanded doing what we need to do for Stark County? No. We make sure that that's covered."

Moser also estimated that there have been about as many no travel advisories issued in the county this year as there have been the last three winters combined. However, he noted that the county takes careful consideration before issuing them knowing that people may start to disregard them if issued too frequently.

Stark County is about 54 miles wide, he said. As a result, different parts of the county may have different road and weather conditions than others even though a no travel advisory has been issued. Moser encourages people to check weather reports before driving during a no travel advisory. Though the conditions in one end of the county may be clear, a storm may be moving in that direction.

He also cautions residents to never use their cruise control when there is snow and ice on the road and to slow down and drive for the conditions.

Penny Lewis, operations manager at Dickinson Ambulance Service, said that the ambulance workers try to make it to every call they can-but sometimes the roads impact how or if they can make it.

"Within the city, if we are called out there and the roads are so bad, we just have the city plow run in front of us," she said. "When the interstate is closed, we don't have any choice. We won't go if it looks like there is a chance that we will get stranded. That takes two ambulance personnel and an ambulance completely out of service."

While fender benders are not unusual with slippery road conditions, Lewis said they usually are more apparent in the first couple of days in a storm.

The ambulance service is usually called in by law enforcement to give the vehicle occupants a look over.

"A lot of the times we aren't needed but the officers are not allowed to clear them medically," she said. "Most people do not want to go with us but they need to be cleared medically before the officer will release them."

Local businesses close if needed

Local businesses must take the road conditions into account before asking workers to make the drive.

Bob Larson, the plant manager at Baker Boy, said they have closed down the business several times this winter as a result of the weather-one time closing the facility for nearly two days.

"It seems like in the past we have had at least a day... but the last two, three years it has not been an issue," Larson said. "In fact, it has been abnormally storm-free. But it's not uncommon to have at least one day where we either shut down early or don't open at all for a day."

They take the road reports from the NDDOT as well as those from local law enforcement into account before making their decision.

Baker Boy employs about 215 people just outside the city which can make driving to work more challenging, Larson said.

"It's still a different world because you're out in the middle of the open road as opposed to those that are right in the city limits," he said.

TMI Systems Corporation has a system that its 250 or so employees can call in order to listen to a message from the company regarding changes to the day's work schedule, said Lynn McChesney, the company's vice president. The factory shifts start about 5:30 a.m., so they try to update the message by 5 a.m.

The company has not had any cancellations nor delayed openings this winter.

"Typically, if we ever shut down it's because the police department in the city of Dickinson has issued no travel in Dickinson," McChesney said.

The facility is located within the city making it easier for its employees to get to typically, he said. However, if people feel they would be putting themselves at risk by driving to work, then they are able to make that call, he said. Those employees can use their paid time off for the day if they wish, a practice that Baker Boy uses as well.

"Of course there's an economic impact to it, but that's always secondary to the personal safety of our teams," Larson said.

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