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The Wind Blew and The Snow Flew

By Staff | Dec 14, 2010

It was hard to tell how much snow fell Saturday. With winds gusting up to 60 mph, it didn’t take much snow to create big problems. This drift blocked the lane leading to the Mike and Lisa Mundus home southeast of Emmetsburg. Drifts from eight to ten feet tall were sliced by the snow blower. Looking in the rear view mirror, the fields are nearly bare. The blizzard ushered in bone chilling cold weather. -- Lisa Mundus photo

Even though Winter doesn’t officially start until Dec. 21, Palo Alto County has already had two major snowstorms. Unfortunately, area law enforcement officials still find themselves dealing with motorists who ignore warnings and advisories against travel during winter storms.

This past weekend, blizzard conditions blanketed the area with frigid temperatures, snowfall and winds in excess of 30 mph, including a gust of 56 recorded at Spencer. The combination of win and snow created complete white-out conditions and prompted authorities to advise no travel. Yet, deputies from the Palo Alto County Sheriff’s Office still hand to respond to several calls to rescue motorists at various locations in the county who chose to ignore the warnings and advisories and set out in the storm.

“We received 10 calls over the weekend out in the county to rescue people who went into the ditch or got stuck in snowbanks,” reported Palo Alto County Sheriff Dennis Goeders on Monday. “The deputies actually went out and rescued four people and got them back to safety, but there was one person we absolutely could not get to, but a farmer was able to get to him and got him back to his farm.”

Goeders noted that in some cases, motorists were able to keep in contact with the Communications Center via cell phone, and stayed in their vehicles. “If one of them would have run out of gas, we’d have found a way to get to them somehow,” the sheriff noted.

Goeders also noted there were also three ambulance calls during the weekend that required the assistance of the Palo Alto County Secondary Road Department and Iowa Department of Transportation plows to break trails to residences to pick up the patients and get the ambulances to hospitals.

Brave souls battled frigid temperatures to move blankets of snow from downtown Emmetsburg’s streets and sidewalks on Sunday. Above, individuals bundled up in warm coats, hats, and gloves and used whatever was available to remove several inches of the fluffy white stuff from the business district. While some operated snow blowers, creating wispy billows in the cold air, others slung a shovel to get the job done. – Lori Hall photo

“We are so fortunate to have a great relationship with the Secondary Road crew and the DOT plows,” Goeders said. “We could not have gotten to these people and helped them without the dedication and skill of the plow operators. They are the unsung heroes in these situations and we’re so lucky to have them.”

While the sheriff noted that for the most part, the number of calls for stranded motorists was down somewhat, there is room for improvement.

“People seemed to heed the forecasts and warnings a little better than they did last year,” Goeders said, “but there are still those who don’t think that warnings or advisories apply to them. When an advisory is issued saying no travel, that’s what it means don’t travel.”

In many states, gates and roadblocks have been established at primary access points to heavily traveled roads to close the roadways in such situations. Motorists who ignore storm closures that end up getting stranded on a closed roadway and requiring rescue by authorities in storms end up paying a hefty fine, along with the costs incurred in the rescue process. In neighboring Minnesota, the fine for ignoring a road closure during a snowstorm and requiring rescue by authorities is $750.

The state of Iowa has implemented a similar system of roadblocks and gates on the interstate highways in the state, but have not implemented such a network on state highways.

While the winds were raging, a trio of snowmobilers was getting ready to hit the trails. The Hansens braved the wind and the cold on their winter machines. No doubt, it was more fun that running the snowblower. --Jane Whitmore photo

In the city of Emmetsburg, there were numerous cases of vehicles that got stuck in snowdrifts on city streets, but no major incidents, according to the Emmetsburg Police Department. However, city crews were kept busy trying to keep emergency routes open through the day and night on Saturday and into Sunday, as well as working around stalled vehicles.

“Overall, it was a lot better than last year, but there were still 10 people who were out driving around when they shouldn’t have been,” Sheriff Goeders noted. “People really need to think about what they stand to lose if they ignore a no-travel advisory, and they need to think about what the consequences of such a decision may be. A tow bill, damage to their vehicle, injury or worse and then think about those who would have to come out to rescue them. It simply isn’t worth it.”