A look at South Dakota’s snowy roads from a plow’s perspective

PENNINGTON COUNTY, S.D. — No winter storm is like another in South Dakota, and the South Dakota Department of Transportation has to adapt to a vast expanse of conditions.

SDDOT Plow 7Lessons from December’s storm

December’s Blizzard conditions from Wall to Box Elder and throughout other portions of the state presented challenges for those clearing the roads. Powerful winds re-covered the roadways with deep snow banks seconds after they had been plowed, and drivers couldn’t see beyond their windshield. Normally, snow squalls come and go within an hour or two.

This was the first one that I can remember that actually came in and it camped out, and it taught us a lesson,” says Ryon Schimke, Lead Highway Maintenance Worker with Traffic Operations. “We are going to be jumping on the storm as soon as possible, and if we can keep the roads clear and stay on top of them, we can end up with a little bit better result.”

Photos of snow from a plow’s perspective

Rapidly changing conditions

Road conditions can change quickly over just a few miles on the same roadway, which contributes to the difficulty of both forecasting and clearing roadways.

“You come up over a crest and all of a sudden you have a drift that’s 50 yards long and it’s in one lane, and if you happen to be trying to pass a car in that area, you have nowhere to go,” Schimke adds.

Helping the plows

Schimke also explained that there’s plenty we can do to help those that are driving plows and clearing roads. Many vehicles have headlights that turn on automatically in the dark, but even in low visibility conditions during the day, they must be turned on manually.

Taking a turn is the most dangerous part that I’ve came across. You don’t see the vehicle there because their headlights aren’t on,” he says. 

He adds that giving plows space to work is also helpful.

“Don’t crowd the plow. Watch out for the workers and amber lights, vehicles parked on side of the road. We are out there for your safety and the safety of everybody in general, but most important, to make sure everybody makes it home every night,” Schimke says.

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News