As a heavy winter storm moves to blanket Northeastern North Dakota for the next two days, the North Dakota Department of Transportation is asking drivers in the north central portion of the state to drive at reduced speeds and be mindful of road conditions.
"Motorists can still travel but may encounter areas of challenging winter weather driving conditions on roadways," department staff wrote in a "travel alert" they issued shortly before noon on Thursday, Oct. 10. "Motorists should allow extra time to reach their destination and be alert to conditions that may make travel difficult, change rapidly or cause travel delays."
Cities in that area include Velva, Harvey, Towner, Devils Lake, Carrington, Langdon and Rolla. By 1 p.m. Thursday, an inch of snow had already accumulated in Devils Lake, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.
If conditions deteriorate, the state could advise drivers not to travel at all, and, if they get even worse, it may close or block roads entirely due to "life threatening conditions."
Meteorologist Brittany Peterson with the National Weather Service reiterated on Thursday that driving conditions will become difficult.
"We expect travel on Interstate 94 to become impossible," she said.
National Weather Service workers predicted the sleet and drizzle falling in that part of the state on Thursday morning will gradually transition to snowfall that will persist into Saturday, Oct. 12.
The area around Devils Lake, Jamestown and Valley City is expected to be hit the hardest -- the service predicts snowfall from 1 foot to 3 feet of snow to fall.
“That’s kind of the bull's-eye,” said Nick Carletta, another NWS meteorologist.
That area has transitioned from drizzle to snow. In and around Grand Forks, that same transition was expected to happen later Thursday afternoon or evening, Carletta said.
Twelve to 18 inches of snow is anticipated to fall on the Grand Cities through Saturday, mostly after Thursday, according to Peterson.
In the southern Red River Valley, Fargo is expected to get off relatively lightly. The Weather Service predicts very little snow will fall there today, but, ultimately, 4 to 10 inches of snow will accumulate there through Saturday.
The service expects 35 to 50 mph winds on Friday, which could kick up the snow that’s already fallen.
"Those wind impacts will ramp up with the snow," Peterson said.
And, because this storm is an “early season event,” Carletta said, the snow that falls will presumably be wetter and harder to deal with than January or February accumulations and could take down power lines and tree limbs. NoDak Electric Cooperative reported Thursday that about 15 out of 744 properties in Griggs County lost power around 11:30 a.m. -- power was restored shortly after 2 p.m.
Meteorologists reported that the excessive rainfall may cause ponding of water and rises on local rivers. Both snow and rain is expected to disrupt agricultural and livestock activities.
Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring characterized the weather event to be another hit to livestock producers.
“We hope that producers were able to move cattle back home or to areas with protection from the potential storm conditions being forecasted,” he said. “Producers should keep in mind that feed supplies need to be close to where cattle are being fed.”
And East Grand Forks put the city's annual fall clean-up event on hold. As of Thursday afternoon, city staff were still planning to hold a hazardous waste and electronic waste drop off event 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12.
Carletta said residents should hunker down and avoid travel that isn’t absolutely vital once the snow begins to fall.
“Once the snow starts, it’s not going to let up for a while,” he said. “And it will be probably impossible travel conditions, especially when you’re traveling between cities.”
Herald Managing Editor Kimberly Wynn contributed to this report.