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Blizzard blows through Iowa

5-7 inches of snow recorded in area

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Dale Iles, a road foreman for the Webster County Engineer’s Office, poses next to a 2020 Mack truck on Friday. The Secondary Roads Department was busy clearing both blacktop and gravel roads after the latest snowstorm.

Webster County escaped relatively unscathed by the second snowstorm this winter after systems dropped five to seven inches of snow with strong winds Thursday night into Friday morning.

Counties west of Webster County did not have more severe snowfall, but did have stronger winds, said Rod Donavon, National Weather Service meteorologist. Wind gusts in northwestern Iowa got up to 50 to 60 mph, with slower speeds in Central Iowa and Fort Dodge. Friday’s peak wind gust in Fort Dodge was 40 mph between approximately 3 and 4 a.m.

Most of north central and western Iowa’s blizzard warning was subsequently downgraded to a winter weather advisory that expired Friday at 6 p.m.

“For the most part, winds are diminishing across the area. They’ll remain breezy with gusts,” Donavon said. “The big things are snow moving around and (snow melt) on roadways that could refreeze once we get past sunset.”

Some radiation through the clouds with just above freezing temperatures helped melt frozen roads after it stopped snowing Friday morning.

Some whiteouts occurred between midnight and 6 a.m. Friday, but Donavon said the risk of that happening again was diminished.

“This weather system came out of Kansas and Missouri, and was a weird system,” he said. “It wrapped through eastern Iowa yesterday and regressed a bit today.”

After moving west in Iowa, it started to move southeast into west central Illinois.

“It’s kind of a strange system as far as these events go,” he said. “A lot of times, these tend to pass off to the northeast, but the way this wrapped around and regressed to the west was unusual.”

Thanks to residents heeding warnings, Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Wes Niles said this storm was about as uneventful, traffic wise, as the last storm in December.

“The storm wasn’t what it was forecasted to be, so that helped out quite a bit,” he said. “The timing of when the storm hit certainly helped. Most people were at home in bed at that time.”

Niles said snow build-up on roads became evident at about 10:30 p.m. Thursday.

Two jackknifed semi-trailer accidents were reported — one on Interstate 35, as well as one on U.S. Highway 20 at mile marker 135, between Webster City and Fort Dodge, at 5:35 a.m. Friday

Niles reported no other accidents, other than cars stuck in ditches — fewer than what might have been expected for a blizzard.

“(Since) the snow is so heavy and wet, visibility didn’t get as poor as predicted,” he said.

Whiteouts very early in the morning occurred when traffic was very light.

Niles said the ISP didn’t anticipate any issues with snow melt refreezing overnight.

“The (Department of Transportation) does a good job of treating problem areas,” he said.

Jamie Johll, Webster County engineer, said the Secondary Roads Department got to work at 4 a.m. Friday.

“We had plenty of warning, so we were prepared for it,” Johll said. “We got to work this morning and stayed on paved roads for most of the morning. The storm was a lot worse in the west half of the county. They are a little further behind than the guys in the east half of the county. In the east half those roads were clear by 10 a.m, so we were able to work on gravel roads.”

Dale Iles is road foreman for District 2, which encompasses the western side of the county.

He said the trucks coming back off the roads were looking pretty sloppy.

“We are a mess,” he said. “You can’t even tell what color the trucks are. We have been out on gravel all morning.”

Johll said Friday afternoon the hope was to have all roads open by the time crews went home that night.

“We hope to get all the gravel roads open and make one more pass on the paved roads,” Johll said.

The county used 30 trucks to get the job done. Each one has a plow with wings on the side and sanders on the back.

About half of the trucks have what’s called a belly blade, Johll said.

“We call it a belly blade underneath the middle of the truck,” he said. ‘We can apply down pressure with that blade to scrape ice off the road.”

Johll said the county won’t bring out the road graders unless it’s “the really heavy stuff.”

Iles said while the snow was coming down and blowing around in the morning, it did not create whiteout conditions.

“It was good enough that we could get the plows out,” he said.

Iles said it seems two storms are never the same.

“About the time we think the storm will be bad, it misses us,” he said. “Or we were supposed to get a couple inches and we get eight because it just stuck here.”

The county’s maintenance department has 38 employees.

Within the county, he said there’s 290 miles of paved roads and about 900 miles of gravel roads.

Crews will be out again on Monday to widen everything out, Johll said.

”It was definitely an interesting one,” Fort Dodge Public Works Director Brett Daniel said of the storm. ”That wind caused some problems.”

City crews battled snow drifts on roads on the outskirts of town, such as 32nd Street, he said. He added that there was ”significant drifting” downtown.

Daniel said about 25 employees worked with 10 plow trucks, two loaders and two graders to clear the streets.

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