March went out like a lion Monday in southwest North Dakota.
An early spring blizzard brought life to a crawl much of the day after the area was slammed with nearly a foot of heavy, wet snow and high winds late Sunday night and Monday morning. The snow fell on top of slush and icy roads created by Sunday afternoon rainfall and was later kicked up by wind gusts before settling down early in the afternoon.
The storm caused multiple accidents and calls for stuck vehicles, authorities said.
One Oklahoma man found himself at the mercy of Mother Nature as he got stuck trying to exit the Runnings parking lot with a heavy duty pickup hauling a goose-neck trailer.
“This is my worst nightmare,” said Tam Nguyen, the owner of Jan and Tam Trucking of Muskogee, Okla., as he waited for police help to come. He was on his way to Minot.
All area schools were canceled, and nearly all public entities and multiple businesses closed in Dickinson and the surrounding communities. Some businesses reopened later in the day, but road conditions in town made travel difficult without the help of a four-wheel drive vehicle.
A no-travel advisory that had been in place for about 14 hours was lifted around noon, but plows planned to work late into the day to remove the snow.
Dickinson Police Sgt. Pete Selle said city employees operating the heavy snow-moving equipment can only work 14 hours straight before a required break.
“City crews are going to be out at 4 a.m. in the morning to start snow removal,” Selle said. “They don’t expect to be complete with snow removal operations in the city of Dickinson until around noon on Tuesday.”
Until then, Selle said, Dickinson police are calling for no unnecessary travel within the city limits.
Between 4 a.m. and noon Monday — the worse part of the storm — Dickinson police performed 14 motorist assists, helping individuals whose cars wouldn’t start, got stuck or were otherwise affected by the weather.
“Obviously the storm started to get pretty bad and streets are in pretty rough condition,” Sgt. Kylan Klauzer said. “We haven’t had a whole lot of accidents thankfully, knock on wood.”
Authorities outside of Dickinson stressed only essential travel throughout the day as they encountered a handful of single- and multiple-vehicle accidents as well as numerous vehicles stuck in snow.
“It’s the wide gamut of crashes,” said Sgt. Chris Messer of the North Dakota Highway Patrol.
Michael Mathews, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, said Monday that Dickinson received as much as 10 inches of snow since Sunday night with Rhame, the far southwest corner of the state, reporting 11 inches and Glen Ullin reporting 11½ inches.
The blizzard warning expired for the southwest portion of the state at 3 p.m. Monday as skies cleared and temperatures improved, leading to a new set of problems.
“I’m sure with snow melting, getting some ruts in it and then freezing again tonight, it’s going to cause a new set of problems for people — especially with two-wheel drive vehicles,” Selle said Monday afternoon.
Billings County Sheriff Deputy Pat Rummel said plows began working in the early morning hours to clear off Interstate 94 and other roads in his county, but it was “pretty thick in some spots.”
He estimated that, as of 8 a.m., the Medora area got 6 to 8 inches of snow between Sunday night and Monday morning.
“Last night, it started off pretty slushy and there’s probably 4 to 5 inches of slush — and now with all the snow on top of it,” Rummel said on Monday morning. “Underneath, it’s glare ice. Once they get the snow removed off of it, it’ll be quite icy.”
Dunn County Emergency Manager Denise Brew said she was worried about people on the roads, but also ranchers in the midst of calving season. The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association issued an advisory Sunday for livestock producers, telling them to be wary of the storm in the wake of the October 2013 blizzard that killed thousands of cattle in western South Dakota and southwest North Dakota.
The only North Dakota counties not included in the blizzard warning were in the northwest and north central part of the state.
On Monday afternoon, the North Dakota Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol closed Interstate 94 from Fargo to Bismarck and Interstate 29 from Fargo to the Canadian border. U.S. Highway 2 also was closed from Devils Lake to Grand Forks, an NDDOT news release said. The closures were due to zero visibility and snow-covered roads causing hazardous driving conditions.
Though it wasn’t what he wanted out of his Monday, the storm didn’t bother lifelong Dickinson resident Josh Steckler. He even drove to work in the morning without realizing he didn’t have to be there until noon.
“It’s usual — you kind of expect it,” Steckler said as he took a break from shoveling his sidewalk Monday morning. “Even into May.”
Press reporter Katherine Lymn and other Forum News Service reporters contributed to this story.