Officials hope online traffic helps avoid winter traffic problemsOn the late Friday afternoon of Dec. 30, North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Aaron Hummel said he was handing out speeding tickets to motorists zipping down the interstate at 90 mph. Thirty minutes later, a blizzard wreaked havoc on the roads, leading to a 100-car pileup. One man died and authorities risked their lives to rescue stranded motorists.
By: Dave Kolpack, Associated Press
FARGO — On the late Friday afternoon of Dec. 30, North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Aaron Hummel said he was handing out speeding tickets to motorists zipping down the interstate at 90 mph.
Thirty minutes later, a blizzard wreaked havoc on the roads, leading to a 100-car pileup. One man died and authorities risked their lives to rescue stranded motorists.
“That’s how quickly that storm went from pretty decent conditions to very poor,” Hummel said.
With the first snowstorm of the season poised to blow into North Dakota this weekend, transportation officials are promoting new tools to give motorists a better idea of conditions. The state Department of Transportation website is now a “one-stop shop of winter travel information,” said Brent Muscha, DOT spokesman.
The revamped site includes a scrolling message center with advisories and closures, a wind speed chart, real-time weather cameras with multiple views, and a zoom feature that can focus on specific state highways.
The website is www.dot.nd.gov/. People who can’t access the Internet can dial 511 for updated information.
Officials also are hoping that recent accidents will make people more cautious. A blizzard last March dwarfed the December storm, stranding about 800 motorists statewide. Law enforcement and emergency management received 3,273 storm-related calls within 35 hours and the National Guard was called out to help.
Remarkably, nobody died.
“Some of them thought they had time to get where they were going, then the storm blew in quickly,” said Cecily Fong, state Emergency Services spokeswoman. “But another group of folks had no clue there was a storm coming and weren’t prepared. Some of them drove around barriers when the roads were closed.
“People do really stupid stuff. It’s really unbelievable,” she said.
The March storm closed I-94 between Valley City and Fargo, I-29 from the Canadian border to South Dakota border, state Highway 83 between Minot and the South Dakota border, and U.S. Highway 2 from Grand Forks to Devils Lake.
The decision to close highways is the judgment of the DOT and the Highway Patrol, Hummel said. He said officials don’t like to shut them down, but will do so when there are life-threatening conditions.
“The reality is that we can put up with a lot more because we are used to driving in poor weather and we have a much better skill set when it comes to winter driving,” Fong said. “But that does not mean there are times when it is absolutely not safe.”
This article is by The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. The Forum and the Herald are both Forum Communications Co. newspapers.