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AS I SEE IT

Posted 3/30/11 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

How many times have you heard on the television or the radio the “No Travel Advised” warning? The answer this winter, at least, is probably far more often than most of us would have cared to.
But the important question is, “Did you listen to the warning and stay where you were? Or did you think that you could make it to your destination?”
Like most of you, I’ve lived in North Dakota virtually all my life. I’ve seen big snowstorms that have literally shut the state down for days. And I’ve seen small storms that pass by without so much as causing most of us to notice them at all.
The only constant in all of this is the National Weather Service and its ability to accurately track and predict how much the storm is truly going to impact us. Sometimes they get their predictions 100 percent right. And sometimes their forecasts completely miss the mark. But yet, in the interest of public safety, the National Weather Service issues its warnings and the news media diligently puts the warnings on the air.
So, do we listen? Or do we venture out?
Both, and we are all guilty of it. We have all ventured out in storms  that we shouldn’t have for a variety of reasons. Most of these reasons fall into a couple of categories. 1) I only have a short distance to go and I know the roads like the back of my hands. 2) If I can make it to my destination before it gets dark, I’ll be okay. Or 3) I’ve just got to go. People are depending upon me.
And last Tuesday, as yet another winter storm was bearing down on western North Dakota, I fell victim to all three reasons as I decided that I just had to drive to Minot to pick up our newspapers from our central printing plant.
First, I’ve driven that road from Watford City to Minot so many times, I know every corner and hill by memory (or at least I think I do).
Second, I knew that by leaving by 10:30 a.m. I could get to Minot and back easily before it got dark.
And third, everyone wants their newspaper on Wednesday morning.
So in spite of the advance warnings that a major winter storm was moving into the area, I headed off to Minot. All was well and good until I got to New Town when the snow started to fall. The farther east I traveled the heavier the snow fell, but I was still able to get to Minot in about 2½ hours.
Not bad. Now if the plant can turn me and I get back on the road by 3:30, I’ll be home free. Or so I thought.
I was on the road by 3:30. But this time the road conditions were much, much different. I chugged along Highway 83 south of Minot at about 35 miles an hour. The wind was howling, visibility was poor at best and the roadway was completely snow-covered.
I gave a call back to work and was informed that area schools had been called off because of the storm and that “no travel” was being advised.
That should have been the proverbial “kick to the head” moment to me. But no, I still pressed on. It took me about 45 minutes to travel those 20 miles from Minot to the junction with Highway 23 where I was bound and determined to head west to home.
But that junction was as far as I was going to get. Turning west I drove straight into whiteout conditions. I couldn’t see left, right, front or back. The only logical thing to do was to turn around and hope I could make it back to Minot. The return trip to Minot fortunately only took me another 45 minutes, by which time the North Dakota Highway Patrol was closing the gates on Highway 83.
So after holing up in Minot overnight, I was able to begin what would become a 3½-hour return trip to Watford City after Highway 2 opened at 9 a.m. (Highway 83, incidentally, didn’t open until later that afternoon.)
The moral of the story is simple. When the National Weather Service issues “No Travel Advised” warnings, heed them! Don’t travel.