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Blizzard hits southwest N.D., causes whiteout conditions

After a blast of arctic air sent wind chills to a reported 51 degrees below zero in Dickinson over the weekend, southwest North Dakota encountered blizzard conditions that descended on the area Monday morning and created “near-whiteout conditions” by mid-afternoon.

Light snow began blowing as winds increased around noon Monday and southwest North Dakota was placed under a blizzard warning by the National Weather Service through 11 p.m. MST. The warning encompassed the southwestern counties of Stark, Adams, Billings, Bowman, Dunn, Grant, Golden Valley, Hettinger, McKenzie, Sioux and Slope.

At about 3:20 p.m. Monday, the North Dakota Department of Transportation issued a no-travel advisory for the areas surrounding the cities of Dickinson, Beach, Belfield, Bowman and New England because of blowing snow causing whiteout conditions. A travel alert was issued for the areas around Killdeer, Richardton, Hettinger and Beulah, and was later extended to include the northwest North Dakota cities of Watford City, Williston, New Town, Tioga and Stanley.

Abeling said it appeared the storm, which he called a “ground blizzard,” would subside late in the day, possibly around midnight.

“This is a rapidly moving system sweeping through the Northern Plains,” Abeling said.

Dickinson Public Schools sent rural buses home at 2 p.m. Monday, but kept all schools in session until the end of the day. New England dismissed schools at 12:30 p.m. and Bowman County let out at 1:30 p.m. In Beach, rural buses were released at 1 p.m., though students from town remained for the duration of the school day.

The West River Community Center in Dickinson closed at 6 p.m., all Dickinson Parks and Recreation activities were postponed, and the Killdeer School Board postponed its meeting because of the storm. It was rescheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Sgt. Chris Messer of the North Dakota Highway Patrol urged motorists to stay home unless driving was a necessity.

“With the wind, visibility will be an issue,” Messer said. “Plus, you pair the blowing snow with the below-zero temperatures and that’s even worse. If people don’t have to go anywhere, don’t. If people do need to go somewhere, they should make sure they have a winter survival kit in the vehicle and tell someone where they’re going. Cellphones, of course, are always good to have as well.”

At 5 p.m., Messer said he knew of one accident in the Dickinson area, a no-injury crash on the Highway 85 overpass at Belfield.

Blowing snow in the Williston area caused icy patches on roadways and areas of no visibility, said Sgt. Jamie Huschka of the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

Troopers in the Williston area were responding to two crashes around 4:30 p.m., including one that blocked Highways 2 and 85 south of town.

Detective Dave Peterson of the Williston Police Department encouraged drivers to slow down, allow more time for travel and increase their traveling distance.

The blizzard comes on the heels of a cold snap that began last Wednesday and sent temperatures well below zero and wind chills to dangerously cold levels.

At one point over the weekend, the wind chill in Dickinson was registered as 51 degrees below, according to The Associated Press. Abeling said records on wind chills are not kept by the NWS.

The Department of Transportation warned motorists across the state to be wary of compacted ice and black ice along roadways, told drivers to refrain from using cruise control, and urged them to be knowledgeable of road conditions by dialing 511 for travel updates.

Forum News Service reporter Amy Dalrymple contributed to this story.

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