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NDDOT preps North Dakotans for winter driving conditions

The North Dakota Department of Transportation had a meeting to talk about winter traffic safety on Wednesday afternoon to prepare citizens for the coming snow.

According to Katie Pizza of the NDDOT Williston Office, new snow plows have been added to the arsenal used by county officials to clean the roads.

“One of them is called the Co-Plow,” Pizza said. “It can clear more areas of roads by dragging a second plow behind it. It clears 24 feet instead of the 12 feet normally used.”

Pizza also spoke about a new phone app called ND Roads, available for purchase through iTunes and Google Play, which give information on the roads during inclement weather and how to navigate them.

“It’s free,” Pizza said. “It includes information such as a camera, highlighting different areas of North Dakota. There are 55 cameras located across the state, with 11 recently added.”

Other features of the app, Pizza said, will include a message center alerting users to changing road conditions, a zoom feature to zoom in on certain areas of the map and a feature allowing the user to only see parts of the state relevant to them.

The National Weather Service arrived in town as well, represented by James J. Assid, community liaison, who wanted to warn citizens of the perils of traveling in heavy snow or ice.

“A blizzard warning will occur in winds of 35 miles per hour or greater,” Assid said. “Conditions are expected to last three hours or greater. There has to be a combination of events – snow mixed with freezing rain or wind and blowing snow. The criteria is generally six inches of snow in 12 hours or eight inches in 24 hours.”

Dangers of an ice storm, Assid said freezing rains, trees and power lines falling and black ice on roads and bridges.

“It doesn’t matter how thick the ice is [for black ice],” Assid said. “It can be half an inch thick, and you’d still slide.”

On black ice, Assid said the best way to avoid it is to “just coast.”

“Take your foot off the break, don’t turn the steering wheel, and just slide over it,” he said.

Assid also said that having a winter survival kit is a good idea.

“Keep extra clothing, a blanket, boots, gloves, a hat,” he said. “The majority of body heat lost is from the head. Have a shovel to dig your vehicle out. Keep snacks – raisins and nuts stay well in a vehicle.”

Assid advised winterizing vehicles as well – checking tire pressure, top off antifreeze, checking belts and checking oil levels were all on his list of good ideas to keep a vehicle working well through the winter months.

“Do your best to keep a full fuel tank,” Assid said. “It reduces the chance of water in the fuel line. Once water freezes in the fuel line, it’s difficult to get the car started again.”

In the event that you are stranded or trapped in a snowstorm, Assid advised citizens to “stay in the vehicle unless you can see shelter a reasonable distance away.”

He also advised citizens to be wary of hypothermia and frostbite, urging them to “check their fingers and toes” as those are the first body parts to show signs of either condition.

“If you’re shoveling snow, and your gloves get wet, dry them out,” Assid said.

Also in attendance at the meeting were Det. Amy Nickoloff with the Williston Police Department and Sgt. Darcy Aberle of the Williston Highway Patrol.

Nickoloff, in an effort to raise awareness of fatalities on the road, noted the amount of deaths year-round on North Dakota highways –1,700 year-round, with over 840,000 injuries due to road accidents.

In the winter months, Nickoloff advised citizens not to try and pass snow plows, as “they are just trying to keep the roads clean.”

Aberle spoke of the gravity of a severe weather warning, concerned that many citizens do not take them seriously enough.

“Conditions change very rapidly,” he said. “When you leave Williston, it might be nice. When you get five to ten miles away, it changes very quickly. Please stay where you are. Stay at home or at your workplace until the warning is taken off.”

Aberle also advised citizens to plan for extra time whenever they travel in snow or icy weather.

“If you’re scheduled to be there in two hours, give yourself an extra 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the conditions,” Aberle said.

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