By Harold Ambler
Snow, wind, and cold have assaulted North Dakota yet again in the past 24 hours. In Bismarck Friday morning the temperature was 12 below zero with a new inch or two of snow expected following Thursday’s more significant storm.
Snow in the southern part of the state was bad enough Thursday that snowplow operators were pulling off the road, blinded by the whiteout conditions. A foot of snow was common in the heaviest band.
The National Weather Service predicts a high temperature of 3 degrees Fahrenheit Friday in Bismarck, as well as additional snow. As of Thursday, three-quarters of the state’s roads were still snow-covered, in whole or in part, from the storm that just ended the day before.
More than once during the winter, the Department of Transportation has issued a no-travel advisory, most recently on February 10.
Cecily Fong, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Emergency Services, said that the winter got off to a bad start on November 4. “That first storm was definitely a blizzard with blowing and drifting snow,” she said. Since then, according to Fong, several counties have seen more than 400 percent of normal snowfall.
December was a record breaker for Bismarck, as it was at many other locations around the state. In Bismarck, the total for the month was 33.3 inches, the greatest amount ever received in a single month.
Those were early days, it turned out. Frequent storms, followed by howling northwest winds and record-breaking cold, have made it a winter to remember. On January 15, the morning low at the Bismarck airport was 44 below zero, the coldest ever for the date, and one degree shy of the all-time coldest reading for a state known to be less than balmy.
By the end of January, many counties had more than 400 percent of normal snow totals on the ground, and Governor John Hoeven had declared a state of emergency.
“There has been a repeated pattern,” said Fong, “where the county will come and plow a road and then two days later, without any additional snow, the road becomes impassable again.” Relatively speaking, the people in Bismarck have gotten off light. Divide County, in the state’s northwest corner, has received 500 percent of normal snowfall.
Steve Andrist, who has lived most of his life in Divide county and is the publisher of the weekly Crosby Journal, commended the street department. “There has never been more than a day or a day and a half where the roads were
impassable,” he said.
After a lifetime living so near the Canadian border, did the last few months really amount to anything? “This winter got my attention,” he said. “The thing that’s different about this one is the volume of snow. It’s so much more than we anticipated. As far as snow and moving it, and moving it again, and having to move it again a third time, this has been very unusual.”
On February 19, the governor asked the federal government to provide emergency assistance for snow removal. “We’ve got roads that aren’t being plowed,” Fong said, “just because the funds aren’t available to do it.”
Although the spring melt is weeks away, Fong said that flooding is already a concern. “We don’t know where, and we don’t know when, but we’re keeping our eyes on it.”