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With a vengeance

First storm of the season blankets area

December 20, 2012
By PETER KASPARI, , Messenger News

In the aftermath of the first major snowstorm of the season, people all over Iowa spent Thursday cleaning up and staying home.

Webster County remained under a blizzard warning most of the day Thursday.

Tony Jorgensen, Webster County Emergency Management coordinator, reported the area received 7 inches of snow from late Wednesday night through early Thursday morning.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
A Fort Dodge Public Works Department employee clears snow from the North Seventh Street bridge Thursday morning, at the corner of Eighth Avenue North.

Though it didn't snow for most of the day Thursday, that didn't mean it was easy navigating through the region. High winds and drifting snow caused problems for not only drivers, but those who were in charge of removing the snow as well.

''We had one of our more challenging snow events, not because of the quantity or volume of snow but because of the wind,'' said Fort Dodge Public Works Director Greg Koch.

Those conditions caused Mayor Matt Bemrich to extend the snow emergency until noon today.

Koch said that during the storm, the wind was blowing at 20 to 30 mph with gusts reaching 40 mph. That wind created snow drifts across roads, especially those on the borders of the community.

''We found that once we got a street open 10 minutes later there would be a 1- to 2-foot-high drift going across it,'' Koch said.

He added that the Fifth Avenue South/Kenyon Road corridor became very icy.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Public Works Department had 12 trucks out working on the streets.

''I think it's important to note that we're getting caught up with it,'' Koch said.

Another group of city workers was scheduled to go on duty at 8 p.m. Thursday and snow removal in the downtown area was to begin at 11 p.m.

Outside the city, Webster County Engineer Randy Will said white-out conditions delayed snow plows on county roads for two hours.

"The gravel roads are drifting shut very quickly after being plowed," Will said in a statement. "We have now decided to stop plowing on the gravel roads until the wind velocity subsides."

Will said the plows were expected back on the gravel roads this morning.

The storm also forced the cancellation of two Great Lakes Airlines flights and the delay of a third one Thursday morning at Fort Dodge Regional Airport.

The departures scheduled for 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. were canceled, said Rhonda Chambers, the airport's director of aviation. She said the departure scheduled for 10:50 a.m. was delayed until 11:30 a.m.

A lot of passengers originally scheduled to fly from Fort Dodge Thursday booked new tickets for today, she said.

Chambers said Thursday afternoon that the status of the flight schedule for the rest of the day would depend on the wind.

''We're still fighting the wind,'' she said. ''The visibility isn't too bad. The wind is the hardest thing.''

Airport maintenance workers spent the overnight hours of Wednesday and Thursday plowing snow from the runways and taxiways.The plowing continued into the daylight hours Thursday.

Law enforcement also spent Thursday responding to weather-related traffic accidents throughout the day.

This included a 25-car pileup on Interstate 35 near mile marker 150.

The Iowa State Patrol reported that at least one person had been killed in that accident.

Because of the accidents, Minnesota authorities closed southbound I-35 from Albert Lea, Minn., to the Iowa border at the request of the Iowa Department of Transportation.

The southbound lanes were to remain closed until further notice.

Fort Dodge Police Capt. Robert Thode said the slick roads had caused a few accidents in town.

"Until the weather changes, if you don't have to go out, don't," Thode said Thursday. "If you do have to drive, use caution and make sure you know where you're going, especially if you're leaving the city limits."

Thode said even though the snow plows were out, that didn't guarantee safe driving conditions.

"The road crews are doing an excellent job, but the wind's blowing the snow everywhere," he said. "We've got some terribly slippery spots at this point."

Webster County Chief Deputy Jim Stubbs also recommended people avoid traveling in the snowy weather. He added that if travel was necessary, to be cautious.

"Allow extra time to get to where you're going because your speed is going to be reduced," he said. "Bring your cell phone and warm clothing if you go out."

Thode and Stubbs said the weather also caused difficulties for their officers.

"Because of the conditions, we aren't able to respond to our calls as quickly," Thode said. "We have our officers drive more cautiously and we make sure they're dressed warmly in case they're at an accident or they have to help out a stalled vehicle. It can be a headache at times."

Stubbs said the sheriff's department deals with the same risks.

"If we can't get to a call, we're not of any use to that person," he said. "We have to drive safely so we can make it to our calls safely."

Messenger reporter Bill Shea contributed to this story.



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