FARGO — A weekend blizzard that shut down the region left dozens of drivers stranded, and digging out after the once-in-a-decade storm could take weeks, Fargo-Moorhead officials said Monday, Dec. 30.
Snowplow drivers in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota worked around the clock beginning Saturday, Dec. 28, to clear interstates, city streets and county roads. The blizzard that dropped more than a foot of snow in the Fargo-Moorhead area closed Interstate 94 from Bismarck to Fargo and Interstate 29 for all of North Dakota.
The major highways opened by early Monday afternoon, and city crews in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo planned to have each street plowed at least once by Monday night.
But it could take two to three weeks before crews entirely catch up and completely clean the streets of snow, Fargo Operations Director Ben Dow said. Plow drivers will have to go over streets another time, and then they will start the task of clearing snow to widen streets.
“This is a once-in-a-10-year thing,” Dow said. “It’s a slow process. It’s not like you just get in and drive through and you are just able to plow it to the side. It’s a battle all day.”
Snow was wet and heavy, said Steve Moore, public works director for Moorhead. On top of that, blowing snow caused large drifts, he said, forcing crews to resort to snowblowers.
"We’re pushing as fast as we can. Just to get one pass through the street is taking everything that we’ve got," he said.
The city of West Fargo had to call on employees from different departments to help clear streets, West Fargo Street Foreman Dan Birnbaum said. “Even in the center of town, we had bad drifting, which is usually not normal,” he said.
The blizzard stranded drivers who ignored no-travel advisories and road closures. The North Dakota Highway Patrol issued more than 50 citations for drivers who knowingly entered closed roads, a violation that carries a $250 fine. State troopers also dealt with 60 vehicles stuck in the snow across southeast North Dakota.
No one died from crashes during the storm in eastern North Dakota or western Minnesota, state troopers said. One motorist suffered a minor injury to his hand, said Capt. Bryan Niewind of the North Dakota Highway Patrol.
While most no-travel advisories were lifted Monday, roads were still slippery and snow continued to blow on roads. Troopers were “extremely busy” responding to vehicles sliding off roads, Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow said. He reported 30 crashes and an additional 75 vehicles that needed towing after getting stuck.
Clay County sheriff's deputies responded to nearly 30 calls regarding stranded motorists on Sunday, Dec. 29, Sheriff Mark Empting said. “When there is a no-travel advisory, it means just that: Stay home and don’t go driving around,” he said.
The West Fargo Fire Department used a pickup truck with a plow to help ambulances, and even the department’s ladder truck, when they got stuck, Fire Chief Dan Fuller said. The number of calls for help was not above average, but the snow and ice slowed everything down.
One man suffered hypothermia outside the PetroServe truck stop on Main Avenue and collapsed into a snowbank, Fuller said, noting that the man is now doing well.
“People are not prepared for the weather and not prepared for the amount of snow we had,” Fuller said. "If we get a call that someone has fallen outside, we treat that as an emergency call during the winter because of that risk.”
Last winter, heavy snowfall collapsed roofs. Residents need to be on the lookout for the same issue this winter, Fuller said.
Snow accumulation can also block heater and sewer vents. “Best way to prevent carbon monoxide in the house is to have your alarm working," Fuller said. "Make sure you change the batteries."
Fargo Battalion Chief Jason Ness said the city saw a slight uptick in vehicle crashes, and firetrucks did get stuck a few times, but the Department of Public Works was always there to help.
Moorhead Police Capt. Deric Swenson said he saw a rash of crashes on "very icy" roads. He advised motorists to drive for the road conditions.
"For the most part, people aren’t being understanding that their cars aren’t magic," Swenson said. "Our squads are not magical either. We’ve had issues with squad cars getting stuck while on calls.”