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Posted 11/18/14 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

It’s official. While the first day of winter is still over a month away, the bone-chilling cold and snow over the past week has officially marked the arrival of winter in western North Dakota.
For those who haven’t lived here very long, that means that we are in for a much longer winter than normal. While western North Dakota doesn’t usually see the snow and cold this early, we now have snow and it’s probably not going to go away for another five months. And with that comes the knowledge that until spring arrives, in addition to having to deal with the ever-increasing traffic on our highways, we now have to add less than perfect driving conditions to our highway safety issue.
Which brings a question to all of the motorists in McKenzie County, and especially our new residents who have moved here from substantially milder winter climates. And that question is, “Are you ready for driving in a North Dakota winter?”
Before you categorically say “yes,” it is important to point out to our new residents that as you have probably found out already, driving the roads in the “oil patch” is quite a bit different than what you may be accustomed to.
First as everyone has already found out, the roadways this time of year can become snow-covered and icy. If you haven’t slid through an intersection while pushing your brake pedal all the way to the floor, consider yourself lucky. Even luckier if you didn’t hit another vehicle in the intersection.
Second, the level of traffic on all of our city streets and highways has increased dramatically. And the percentage of big trucks traveling our roadways as compared to passenger vehicles is significantly higher. Which means, it is going to take those trucks a lot longer to slow down and come to a stop when road conditions are less than ideal.
Third, we get snow in the winter. And we can get rain in the winter. And we get lots of wind in the winter. And all of those conditions can make for some very dangerous winter driving conditions. If you don’t believe it, ask a North Dakota resident who knows and they will tell you that no matter how badly you want to go somewhere, there are times when the safest place to be is anywhere but on the roads.
Every winter, we see what happens when Mother Nature decides to pull out all of the stops and hits us with a ton of snow and high winds. Roads are closed because it’s unsafe for the snowplows to be on the roads and the high winds can make for complete whiteouts. In those situations, follow the advice of the National Weather Service and law enforcement officials, and stay off the highway.
But for the most part, other than the cold and snow, driving in a North Dakota winter isn’t all that bad or dangerous, as long as you are prepared and have emergency provisions in your vehicle in case you become stranded. And remember the cardinal rule of never, ever leaving your vehicle and trying to walk to find help. No matter how warm you think you are dressed, you won’t last long in the subzero temperatures.
North Dakota winters can be long and sometimes brutal. North Dakotans know that and they respect the weather and the road conditions. But more importantly, they adapt their driving to reflect the ever-changing road and weather conditions. Sometimes that means driving a lot slower than the speed limit. And it definitely means driving defensively.
Everyone wants to get to where they are going as quickly as they can. But arriving at your destination safely needs to be the paramount consideration of every driver this winter.
So to every motorist out there, ask yourself, “Are you ready for driving in a North Dakota winter?”