SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Travel is not advised in most parts of South Dakota Friday afternoon, as high winds combined with accumulated snow have led to impassable roads in many areas.
Hughes County Sheriff Patrick Callahan took a break from assisting in rescue operations to give a breakdown of the situation in his county.
“The last 24 hours has been a real challenge,” Callahan said. “We began doing rescue operations for people who were stranded due to snow and extreme cold — we don’t go out just to pull people out of snow banks but the extreme cold really proved to be a problem for a lot of people who were stranded.”
Callahan described an operation that began almost 24-hours before he spoke to KELOLAND News, explaining that several cars had become disabled on Hwy 34 east of Pierre at the Hughes County line.
“By dark last night we knew we had to get them out,” Callahan said. “We went out there in heavy-duty 3/4 ton pickups.” He said they rounded up at least 12 people and shuttled them back to Pierre. Two vehicles have yet to be cleared, but everyone is now safe.
Callahan calls road conditions in the county ‘impassable.’ “Not only on Hwy 34 but in all areas of the county,” he said.
While it may look like conditions are lightening up, Callahan says this is not the reality, and that with the wind still blowing, drifts and visibility can become major challenges.
This is also the case in Jackson County, where Highway Dept. Superintendent Denny Lottman said conditions can also appear misleading. “Out in the open, because it blew for so long, it actually looks like there’s not near as much snow as we got,” he said.
That snow is still around, however, and Lottman says the wind has driven it into valleys and other low-lying areas such as the underpasses where I-90 passes over county roads. Lottman posted a picture of such a drift on Facebook and told us that each interstate overpass in the county looked similar.
“The valleys are full of snow and they’re probably 10-20ft deep in snow,” said Lottman.
Drifts are a major reason that roads are impassable in Hughes County as well. “They can be a quarter mile in length,” said Callahan, going on to relay how he got stuck during a recent rescue. “The doors on my 3/4 ton truck didn’t open. I had to go out through a window to dig myself out.”
Even plows are getting stuck, said Callahan.
Callahan advises Hughes County residents to stay home if they can. “When you venture out, you jeopardize our first responders,” he said. “It’s just not worth it. Leave the roads available for those people that can’t get to hospital.”
Medical calls and rescues have kept Lottman busy as well. “I barely got sleep last night because we were out rescuing some people who were stranded,” he said. This morning he says he was out plowing by sunrise.