State officials issue no-travel advisories for some areas

Blowing snow and blinding conditions rolled through eastern South Dakota Monday, putting 15 counties in a blizzard warning and causing the state Department of Transportation to issue a no-travel advisory for parts of the state.

Crystal Morgan, Alexandria
Austin Kaus/Republic Crystal Morgan, Alexandria, braves the winter weather conditions as she delivers mail on East Third Avenue on Monday afternoon.

Blowing snow and blinding conditions rolled through eastern South Dakota Monday, putting 15 counties in a blizzard warning and causing the state Department of Transportation to issue a no-travel advisory for parts of the state.

Among numerous school closings and travel advisories, the weather also played a part in an accident in the region that involved a law enforcement officer who was responding to a traffic mishap.

According to Highway Patrol Trooper Matthew Petersen, Hanson County Sheriff Mark Kessler was responding to an in the westbound lane of Interstate 90 near Alexandria. A 2002 Ford F150 pickup driven by Cheryl Stirling of Ethan impacted the driver's side of Kessler's vehicle.

Stirling, 56, and an unidentified passenger were not injured. Kessler did not have any injuries but did receive a precautionary check at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell.

Stirling's vehicle sustained approximately $4,000 in damage. The damage estimate for Kessler's vehicle is between $4,000 and $6,000. The investigation is pending, but Petersen said whiteout conditions could be to blame for the accident.


"Visibility is the whole kicker," Petersen said.

The weather also prompted a mustering of snowplows across the state, and in some places that's not financial good news.

Nancy Beckman, highway secretary for Aurora County, said all 20 townships in that county have paid the county highway department to take care of their blading and snowplowing.

County crews will plow the county roads, but aren't responsible for clearing the smaller township roads without a financial agreement.

Blading costs $18.50 per mile while plowing and other duties come at a cost of $75 per hour. As snowstorms have been a regular occurrence this year, the cost of plowing and blading in some small townships in the region has created a financial shortfall.

At least half of Aurora County townships are short on road-clearing funds, Beckman said.

"We do have townships that struggle to pay their bills," Beckman said. "There (are) a lot of townships that are already hurting, so they tell us 'Don't blade' "

The situation is different in Tripp County, where Connie Christensen said townships usually rely on their own methods to clean roads.


Christensen, the secretary and bookkeeper for the county's highway department, said road crews have enough to keep themselves busy during inclement weather, although they will assist local townships when requested.

However, any effort will come after the county's work is done.

"If we can help them out, we do, but only after we clear out the county roads," Christensen said. "We have too many miles to try and take care of without taking on any more."

The rate for plowing snow is $150 an hour, said Kathleen Flakus, county auditor.

Although there wasn't a downpour of snow in the region Monday, conditions still called for snowplows and travel alerts to help keep the state's roads safe.

The blizzard caused a flurry of school closures in the area. By 1:30 p.m., many area schools had dismissed students.

The timing wreaked a bit of havoc with school lunch plans, said Sean Moen, food services director for Mitchell School District, but most of the prepared meals were either eaten or stored for future use.

The planned hamburgers will be ground up for use in Sloppy Joes or casseroles, buns will be frozen and canned fruit will be served later this week.


The peas, however, didn't fare as well. They were thrown out, Moen said, because "once you reheat peas, they just turn to mush."

Moen said between $300 and $400 of food had to be disposed of.

"That was difficult," Moen said.

In Mitchell, the day began with snowfall, but conditions deteriorated quickly as the wind arose. By late morning, even city streets were experiencing whiteout conditions.

Amy Brady, communications manager for the DOT, announced a no-travel advisory for many counties in the eastern and central parts of South Dakota, citing poor visibility and heavy drifting.

"A no-travel advisory is a warning that travel conditions are extremely difficult and dangerous," Brady said. "You simply should not be traveling during such advisories."

The National Weather Service predicts a 70 percent chance of more snow today, with wind chills dropping to as low as minus-19 degrees.


Snow, strong winds sock South Dakota
Austin Kaus/Republic The two individuals in a statue outside of Wesley Acres were dressed for the winter weather conditions on Monday.

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