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Snowstorm slams central SD

When it snows, danger mounts for law enforcement officers. Tasked with responding when danger calls, no matter the weather, law enforcement officers often find themselves in dangerous situations -- especially on days like Monday, when snow blanke...

The westbound off ramp to Interstate 90 from South Ohlman Street in Mitchell is closed on Monday morning. Interstate 90 from Mitchell to Murdo was closed due to Monday's snow storm. (Matt Gade / Republic)
The westbound off ramp to Interstate 90 from South Ohlman Street in Mitchell is closed on Monday morning. Interstate 90 from Mitchell to Murdo was closed due to Monday's snow storm. (Matt Gade / Republic)

When it snows, danger mounts for law enforcement officers.

Tasked with responding when danger calls, no matter the weather, law enforcement officers often find themselves in dangerous situations - especially on days like Monday, when snow blanketed roads and strong, gusting winds created widespread visibility issues.

The bulk of area schools were closed on Monday, as were many courthouses, state offices, businesses and non-emergency health care centers as up to 9 inches of snow fell in some areas and blowing snow reduced visibility to near-zero.

The South Dakota Department of Public Safety reported few crashes, and area sheriff’s departments said there were multiple reports of vehicles sliding off roadways into the ditch.

And emergencies in blizzard conditions can be tricky, Mitchell Police Sgt. Joel Reinesch said.

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“When you get that emergency tone, we have to remember that although a lot of things depend on us getting there as quickly as possible, at the end of the day we have to get there,” Reinesch said. “It’s a big balancing act.”

The storm forced the closure of Interstate 90 from Murdo east to Sioux Falls - more than 200 miles - as ice coated the roads and drifting snow made travel on the state’s major thoroughfare impossible.

I-90 remained closed as of 5 p.m., and the South Dakota Department of Public Safety said the section will remain closed “until conditions improve and crews are able to clear the roadway.”

Through Monday afternoon, the greatest snowfall totals were north of Mitchell, near Aberdeen, according to the National Weather Service. Cravens Corner, in Edmunds County, reported 9 inches and Garden City reported 8 inches, while Forestburg reported 1.8 inches. Mitchell likely received approximately 2.5 inches through Monday afternoon, but official totals were not available, as reports are generally received in the early morning hours, NWS officials said.

And if there is a crash, the danger doesn’t end when officers arrive on scene, Reinesch said.

Because blowing snow reduces visibility for motorists, oftentimes it is difficult for drivers to see emergency personnel until they are extremely close, Reinesch said.

“We can’t make our red-blue lights any brighter than they already are, so basically we just have to roll with whatever happens,” Reinesch said. “We depend on people to be vigilant, and the big message is we would hope the general public also looks out for us in those situations.”

Jerauld County Sheriff Jason Weber agreed with Reinesch, highlighting a serious injury crash he and other first responders were called to Monday morning in conditions Weber said were “absolutely horrible.”

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“Whenever there is an emergency situation, caused by maybe a drunk driver or being on the road in inclement weather, emergency responders are being put at risk,” Weber said. “I have almost been run over on dry roads on a clear day. Bad weather just increases all the risks.”

At approximately 8:49 a.m. on Monday, a semi, driven by a 64-year-old male, was traveling west on South Dakota Highway 34, when it collided with a 1999 Ford Explorer, traveling east, approximately 2 miles east of Wessington Springs, according to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety. The driver of the Ford, 66-year-old David Grieve, of Wessington Springs, was not wearing a seat belt and sustained serious, non-life threatening injuries. He was transported to a Wessington Springs hospital and was cited for not wearing his seat belt.

The storm was expected to continue through Tuesday, with a blizzard warning in effect until 6 p.m., and National Weather Service officials estimated several inches of new snowfall overnight and through Tuesday. Snow and wind is expected to taper off by mid-morning.

The Mitchell School District and John Paul II Elementary canceled classes for Tuesday around 4:30 p.m. in anticipation of continued snowfall. The Mitchell Technical Institute campus will also be closed.

Additionally, the city of Mitchell declared a snow emergency Monday afternoon, and Reinesch said plows are expected to make multiple passes on emergency snow routes through Tuesday evening. People who live in those areas should remember to keep vehicles off the roadways until the snow emergency is lifted by authorities, Reinesch said.

Related Topics: WEATHER
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