CHICAGO >> Travel conditions remained hazardous as a winter storm swept across much of the northern Great Plains Monday, with blowing and drifting snow creating near-zero visibility on some roads.
The combination of freezing rain, snow and high winds that forced the shutdown Sunday of vast stretches of highways in the Dakotas continued into Monday morning, and authorities issued no-travel warnings for much of North Dakota.
The storm also has caused widespread power outages in the Dakotas, Nebraska and western Iowa.
The South Dakota Rural Electric Association said more than 12,000 of its customers were without power Monday morning. In Nebraska, winds gusting up to 70 mph were cited for hundreds of power outages in central and eastern portions of the state on Sunday, although by Monday morning utilities reported that power had been restored to most customers.
“Between the ice and snow, and winds howling like crazy, there will be nothing moving” until late afternoon Monday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Gust in Grand Forks, North Dakota. “Then it’s dig-out time.”
Gust’s advice to travelers: “Stay put.”
The weather service office in Bismarck, North Dakota, predicted snow accumulations of 8 to 15 inches in western parts of the state and thunderstorms in the central region.
The North Dakota Transportation Department closed most of a 240-mile stretch of Interstate 94 Sunday night, from the Montana border to Jamestown. That stretch remained closed Monday morning. Portions of U.S. Highways 2, 52 and 281 were also closed because of snow, ice and “near zero visibility.” Motorists who drive past the roadblocks can be fined up to $250.
No-travel advisories were issued for much of North Dakota, including the Williston, Dickinson, Minot, Bismarck, Jamestown, Valley City and Grand Forks areas.
Authorities in South Dakota shut down Interstate 90 from the Wyoming border to Chamberlain — a distance of about 260 miles. And the Rapid City Fire Department sent out its special tracked vehicle for the first time this season to help stranded motorists east of Rapid City.
Icy conditions in Aberdeen, South Dakota, prompted the Brown County Sheriff’s Office to issue a no travel advisory. Aberdeen was also under a weather service flash flood warning after rain and snowmelt flooded major intersections in the city.
The weather service warned anyone who “must travel” on icy roads in central Minnesota to have an extra flashlight, food and water.