On Saturday, April 9th, a co-worker said something to me about heavy snowfall forecasted for this coming Tuesday. Recently I had been looking at the weather reports for a few days ahead, but I hadn’t noticed that snow was expected. Temperatures for the past week had been in the 50s, and I thought that winter was over.
I had planned on driving my 1982 diesel Mercedes on the long drive to work for the remainder of the spring, summer, and fall because it gets about 25 mpg. This vehicle is not good at all in the snow, because it only has six inches of ground clearance, it’s rear-wheel-drive, and the front end is very heavy. I am glad that someone said something to me about snow, I fear that I might not have realized what was going to happen in time to know that I needed to drive a different vehicle. I thought about what could have happened, having to drive one hour to work, not being able to make it home after work, becoming stuck, inconveniencing other people, and looking like an idiot.
On Monday I put a full tank of gas in my 1997 Dodge 1500 4×4. I bought this truck for $2,000 a couple years ago after seeing it on Facebook Marketplace. I believed that this was a good deal, even though I recognized that this truck either already had or showed symptoms of everything that had gone wrong with my 1996 Dodge 1500 4×4, including a variety of transmission peculiarities, headlight malfunctions, intermittent starter problems, and more. But, I had already learned several work-arounds for what was wrong, and I had faith in this truck, though it was far from trouble-free. I am emphasizing that there is nothing special about this truck.
At the grocery store on Monday, I noticed that the parking lot was much fuller than normal. Inside the store, almost all of the bread was gone. People were stocking up on groceries in preparation for this winter storm. When I looked at Facebook, TikTok, weather reports, and news services on Monday evening, there were notices and discussions about the blizzard that was supposed to begin at 6:00 a.m. Tuesday morning and continue through 6:00 p.m. Thursday evening.
On Tuesday morning at 3:00 a.m., it began to snow. When I began driving to work at 5:00 a.m., the streets and highways had not been plowed at all, not once. The blizzard wasn’t supposed to start until 6:00 a.m., so I hadn’t expected there to be so much snow accumulation right away. The depth of snow, amount of blowing snow, and greatly reduced visibility, made driving difficult. I was glad that there was no one else on the roads at that time in the early morning.
My initial impression, was that the snowplows in the several counties that I drove through on my way to work, hadn’t started plowing yet, because the blizzard had just started. As Tuesday went on, I spoke to co-workers, checked the news, weather forecasts, and Facebook, and I noticed that citizens, the North Dakota DOT, and Law Enforcement were advising everyone to stay home for the duration of the blizzard, if they did not have to be out.
Readers may be wondering, why was I at work? I have been working at this particular 100-acre industrial site for the past five years, which is manned 24 hours per day, every day of the year, including every holiday. If someone from the company that I work for wasn’t on site performing hourly reporting/documentation, we would all lose our jobs, not just the people who didn’t show up.
On Tuesday evening, I was able to drive home. There were some snowdrifts on Hwy 22, and visibility was reduced at times, but conditions were nearly the same as what a driver would encounter during a typical North Dakota winter snowfall with high winds. Wednesday morning was when some of my co-workers began calling in saying that they could not get out of their driveway because the city streets had not been plowed, or they made it out to the highway, but the highway had not been plowed.
I realized on Wednesday morning that I was possibly going to have to stay at the industrial site where I work for a day or two, to fill-in for co-workers who could not get there. I stopped at a rural small-town gas station to fuel up my truck again. At this gas station, 9 times out of 10 the card reader on the gas pump will not process my debit card, and I have to go inside to pay. But this gas station was closed now, because of the blizzard. Luckily, my newest credit card worked at the pump. However, there was large diesel Chevy 3500 truck towing a large equipment trailer that was parked at an adjacent pump, not pumping diesel, not running, that looked to be stuck there because the fuel pump card reader wouldn’t work.
Later on Wednesday, an older co-worker of mine called and said that he could not come to work, not because the roads weren’t plowed, but because he could not get fuel for his large Chevy 3500 dually, because his local small-town gas station was closed. He and his wife did not have a credit card or debit card. ( Some readers will know and understand why some people don’t have a credit card or debit card, while other readers will not know or understand.)
Between Wednesday and Thursday, three of my co-workers were unable to make it to work, one because city streets were not plowed, one because highway was not plowed, and one because he could not get fuel, the gas station was closed. A fourth co-worker got stuck going home, because the city streets were not plowed. I had to stay at work to cover two shifts for other people, in addition to my own work shift.
When I was able to leave work to go home on Thursday evening, at the same time that the blizzard was supposed to have ended at 6:00 p.m., the roads that I took for the first 30 miles were icy, but not covered in deep snow. Unexpectedly, when I got to within 20 miles of my house, Hwy 22 was closed by a Sheriff and Highway Patrol. There was a tractor-truck & trailer, and two small Kia cars behind it, bumper-to-bumper at a complete stop on Hwy 22, without their hazard flashers on, waiting to be rear-ended, just sitting there about 300 feet from what looked like an accident.
I drove up to the where the Sheriff was standing, and then I could see that something like a Chrysler 300 sedan was stuck or stopped at a snowdrift in the road. There were no emergency vehicles, tow truck, or snowplow anywhere. All the Sheriff had to say was, “Hwy 22 is closed.” I turned around, and while driving back, I stopped and told the male driver of the first Kia car, “There’s a snowdrift, the road is closed, going to be closed for a while.” As I started driving away, I heard this man in the Kia yelling at me out his open car window, “Fuck you, you mother fucking cocksucker.”
I think that the man in the Kia was yelling and cursing at me, because he was wanting to ask me when the road would be clear, and how to get where he was going, but I had no answer for him, I wasn’t in charge of this, and there was no alternate route that I could tell him. Shortly after this, I saw that my Dodge truck transmission overheat warning light was on, so I had to pull off the road at a turn-out and stop. With the slightly bad transmission in this Dodge truck, I can’t drive the whole way home in 4wd-high, or with the overdrive enabled.
I went back to the industrial site where I worked. I looked on the internet, and I could not find any clear answers on what highways were open, what highways were closed, and when closed highways would be open. I hated to even try, but I was tired of still being at work, so I set out attempting to go a different way which I knew would be much, much worse.
I drove 20-35 miles west on a small highway that was icy and had bad snowdrifts, to get to Hwy 85 that had flashing signs saying it was closed, drove 45 miles on closed Hwy 85 that was very icy, with very bad snowdrifts, to get to another very icy, worst snowdrifts-of-all highway for 20-35 miles. Along the way, I saw a couple of 4-wheel-drive vehicles that had gone off the road and became stuck, but no one was still inside them.
I was thinking and realizing, that just because that Chrysler 300 on Hwy 22 couldn’t make it past that one snowdrift when I was 20 miles from my home, I had to turn around and drive 90 miles the other way, and go through at least a dozen snow drifts that were as bad as that one on Hwy 22, but in the dark. If that tractor-truck & trailer behind the Chrysler 300 would have been in front of it instead, that snowdrift would have been obliterated enough for everyone behind the tractor-truck & trailer to get through.
Being upset and dissatisfied with what had happened over the past three days, I was puzzled at how southwest North Dakota had handled this blizzard. It can snow in North Dakota from October through April, often times for days and weeks in a row throughout the winter. Starting out with completely clear & dry roads on Monday April 11, why was it such a big deal and difficult job that snow plows couldn’t run on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday?
To put it a different way, North Dakota has to cope with snowfall from October through April, it can snow for days and weeks in the winter, how could the snowplows in North Dakota be overwhelmed from just three days of snow in April? The highways in rural areas did not have an accumulation of deep snow due to the high winds, the problem on the rural highways was snowdrifts in certain places. It appeared to me that one single county snowplow making one pass per every 1-2 hours would have adequately dealt with the snowdrifts.
The other thing that was very upsetting to me, and handled wrong in my opinion, was that every small-town gas station and rural emergency services building was closed. If I would have had to pick up a stranded motorist on Hwy 22 or Hwy 85, where would I take them? What would I do with them? I couldn’t have taken them very far, Hwy 22 and Hwy 85 were closed, remember?
It appeared to me, that for some reason, the snow plows were held back from going anywhere, or prevented from doing very much on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in certain counties. I don’t know what political fight was going on, or if some type of statement was trying to be made, by making sure that roads would be closed, instead of open.
Here are a couple of Facebook comments from Friday, from people wondering the same things that I was wondering:
Connie O. H., “Are the county plows out on the county roads?”
Thomas J. S., “It was a big snowstorm, and certainly a serious challenge to life and limb, but IT WAS NOT a “blizzard” by the definition used by the National Weather Service…The people of North Dakota know what a blizzard is, and this storm lacked 2 of 5 required parameters.”
The more I thought, “What would I have to do with a stranded motorist? Take them back to my house, feed them, find them a place to sleep?” Then I realized, that’s why all of the small-town gas stations were closed, the owner/managers/workers didn’t want people being dropped off, having no place to go, and having to stay inside a gas station & convenience store that normally closes at 6:00 p.m. Like Daytona Beach during Black Spring Break, all of the businesses in North Dakota close during a blizzard.
In order to understand how much North Dakotans really do not want to help other people, here are some quotations that I copied and pasted from Facebook:
Ryan B., “They should have let them sit there. There is no reason official’s should risk their lives for stupidity.! Before anyone says you don’t know their reasons let me help you I don’t care!”
Lisa K. to Ryan B., “EXACTLY!! It was all about THEM! Now they have put other peoples live in danger because they were a-holes!”
David H., “Lots of warning should of just let them sit.”
Jason B., “Its like camping….for morons.”
Pam S. A., “stop defending these fools”
Joyce S. P., “…our first responders should NOT be expected to risk their lives because of someone elses stupidity and gross neglect of common sense…there needs to be a huge fine AND jail time for any and all that require a rescue like this UNLESS it was truly a matter of life or death that caused them to be out on the roads.”
Elizabeth K., “Shame on those people that put others at risk!”
Bob B.K., “And Why were they out on the roads???? GOOD GRIEF!! People must think that it will never happen to them.”
Mavis T. B., “Some people have absolutely NO common sense.”
Dana S., “Had to travel during a no travel warning didn’t they.”
Rock T., “You know the old saying. There’s a blizzard coming, let’s drive around and get stuck so people can risk their lives saving us!”
Do North Dakotans even know that there are heavier snowfall areas than North Dakota? Alaska, the mountains of Colorado, Utah, Washington, and Oregon have much heavier and more frequent snowfall than North Dakota. Do people in AK, CO, UT, WA, and OR want to deny drivers who get stuck in snow assistance? Probably not, because it is a common occurrence for drivers to get stuck in the snow in winter. And these states make an effort to keep the roads clear, even when it is snowing and the wind is blowing.