Polar vortex brings snow, ice, danger

New England has been coated with snow and ice for days, but a strong polar vortex weather condition from Canada has brought sub-zero temperatures to Hettinger County and most of the midwest. Herald photos / Brad Mosher

Winters in North Dakota can be deadly.

That is the warning Dunn County Emergency Management’s Denise Brew has issued online with the forecast of a series of strong storms dropping temperatures to dangerous levels in the near future.

By Brad Mosher

The Herald

And Hettinger County’s Emergency Manager, Tracy Kruger, agrees that caution and common sense are important with travel when winter storms are forecast in North Dakota.

Not only has Brew publicly announced the effect of a new round of extremely cold weather will have on western North Dakota with a Facebook post Jan. 25, but that weather will be repeating for several weeks.

Brew also posted a warning from the National Weather Service in Bismarck which predicted snow over the weekend, with some blowing and drifting snow, along with frigid temperatures in the area through out the week.

“The biggest thing (to prepare) is just watch what is heading our way. After all, it is January and it is winter. We are going to get slammed with some very cold and some very, very windy conditions,” she explained.

“Wintery mix will always make our road conditions extremely worse,” Brew said. “But the winds are going to be extremely high. They are not confident about how high, but they are expecting 40 to 50 miles per hour wind gusts. They (the National Weather Service in Bismarck) is not really confident what Dunn County is going to get, but we have snow out there right now.

“There is the potential for some whiteout conditions. That is the best way to put it,” she added..

“My advice is that anybody who has any kind of travel plans is check the road conditions for what is supposed to happen while they are gone and travel with winter survival kits in their car.

“Make sure everybody in the car has winter clothing along – hats, mittens, gloves, boots – just in case they get stranded,” she added.

She also recommended having water in the vehicle, along with a little bit of food like energy bars and dried fruit. “M & Ms and that kind of things, just in case. You need a flashlight with good batteries, extra blankets, extra clothing to put on. I tell people to have a whistle along because if you are stranded and it is a whiteout and people are looking for you, then people can be tweeting on that whistle,” Brew said.

Keeping snow and ice off walkkways and streets in sub-zero temperatureshas kept local residents and road crews busy.

She also recommended taking a bunch of garbage bags along on trips along with hand sanitizer and toilet paper. “That is the sanitation part of it. That is because if you are stranded, you still might have to go to the bathroom and what are you going to do with it.”

One thing that Brew packs in her vehicle is a five-gallon bucket. “That is what I have. It is like a Port-A-Potty. It is lined with a garbage bag and has kitty litter in the bottom. I throw the roll of toilet paper in there, because just because you are in a ditch and it is whiteout conditions, you still might have to go to the bathroom. That way, you have some way to sit down if you have to go. If you have little kids especially… they always have to go. It is a given, You can’t tell them to hold it.”

Depending on the weather conditions at the time, the bathroom bucket might have to be used inside the vehicle, she added. “With kids, if you get them outside, it is going to be cold. “That is why I would recommend a little bucket … even an ice cream bucket would work for the kids.

“The biggest thing is to have stuff along.

“We are spoiled now because we have so much technology. We have so much knowledge and can get hold of everybody. We have forgotten about how dangerous these weather conditions can be. If it is a whiteout, then nobody could see where you are in the ditch. That is the bad part.

“I tell everybody to get a (colorful) cowboy hanky and tie it around your radio antenna. Not everybody might see it, but it could help,” she said.

For the vehicles without long antennas, she recommended putting a window down a little bit, and close the window on a bandanna or colored scarf that the wind could turn into a flag when the window and door is closed again.”

She also recommend that cell phones should be fully charged before leaving on trips, but to also carry extra battery packs to recharge the phones with. “If you get stranded and your car gets in a ditch and is not running, then how would you charge your phone. You don’t want recharge a phone and get your car battery run down.”

Something everyone should do before leaving is contact someone and let them know when they were leaving, what route they plan to take and when they expect to arrive, Brew said. “Let somebody know when you leave. Let somebody know when you arrive. Have somebody watch out for you. It makes it a lot easier for emergency responders when somebody calls,” Brew said.

Brew also recommended tha people be aware of where they are, so that if they can contact emergency personnel, then they say they are close to a mile pot on a highway.

“Emergency personnel go out there and risk their lives, so people should be smart.

“It is a matter of education and awareness of what is coming. That is the big thing.” she added.

The severe storm conditions will be happening periodically throughout the rest of the winter.

“We have the potential (for harsh storm conditions) through Friday (Feb. 1) off and on and beyond,” Brew explained.

She also said that before going on any trip make sure to fill up the gas tank. “If you have a quarter tank and you slide into the ditch, you won’t have much extra (to keep warm).

“If nothing else, don’t mess with the cold. It is going to to be wicked,” she warned.

“It is going to be is the actual, normal, January we are used to. We are spoiled rotten.

“Everybody needs to remember this is January and this is North Dakota. You need to travel with the idea that is cold out there. It is not going to warm up.”

As conditions change, Brew recommended checking her Facebook postings on the Dunn County Emergency Management, along with the state’s Department of Transportation road conditions. The North Dakota Road Conditions is also a app which can be downloaded to cell phones.

If people slid off icy roads into the ditch, Brew recommends first putting on the flashers and then calling 911 for assistance. In addition, for the drivers who carry kitty litter, Brew added that the litter could be spread around the tired to add traction. “It is kind of a double duty thing to have in the truck of the car,” she added.

People should drive carefully, not matter how confident they are in their vehicle or skills, Brew said.

“Respect the conditions. When you get into rain and snow, blustery blowing whiteout conditions… just drive carefully. I don’t care what your vehicle is, it could be the greatest ever, but you have got to respect the conditions.

“You don’t know the other people driving, and how careful they are being,” she said. “They could slam into you.”

Common sense, caution urged

For Kruger, the benefit of being in a rural are is that most people have been through North Dakota winters before and know what to expect.

“The highway road crews do a really good job of keeping the state highways clear. They are very good about that. The road crews in Mott do the same,” she added.

Many of the people in Hettinger County always carry a winter survival kit, Kruger said. “They do it out of habit. They have learned what to be prepared for because it does happen every winter where we do have extended cold snaps. 

“I am confident that most of the county residents are prepared for it,” she said. “They (residents) have done it before and no official actions need to be taken. Here, cold weather is commonplace. We don’t do anything different just because this (polar vortex) is coming.”

Kruger also said that people should take a few extra minutes to get where they are going. “Expect frozen slush on the city streets,” she added. 

“The city public works here just works tirelessly here,” keeping the streets clear.

COMMON SURVIVAL KIT ITEMS

Extra Food

Extra Clothing

Water

Extra Blankets

bathroom supplies

kitty litter

extra portable battery packs (cellphones)

Check weather and road conditions

Notify travel plans

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