Christmas snow storm of 2009 in summary

The recent snow storm began earlier, but struck with full power all of South Dakota and most of the nation on Wednesday, December 23, and lasted into Sunday, December 27.

The state's Emergency Operations Center officially opened at noon on Wednesday and officially closed at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. Governor Mike Rounds and officials from the South Dakota Department of Public Safety and South Dakota Department of Transportation held many media briefings on the status of the winter storm. Interstates 90 and 29 were closed, the Rapid City and the Sioux Falls airports were closed and no travel was advised.

The South Dakota Highway Patrol reported state-wide highway activity during the storm. Figures include: one fatal crash near Salem on Sunday afternoon, 76 injury accidents, 145 accidents without injuries, 336 calls to assist motorists, involvement in two searches and the involvement in five medical calls. There was a request from the Philip Ambulance Service to the South Dakota Department of Transportation and the Haakon County highway department to assist in several ambulance runs.

Ed Anderson of the South Dakota Rural Electric Association, reported that any significant power outages in the state were handled by the middle of Sunday afternoon.

Locally, Joe Connot, director of member services of West Central Electric Cooperative, said, "We had a pretty much system-wide problem with our transmission lines. The major cause during the beginning of the storm with its high winds was wires were wrapping together and then opening up the line breakers. Our technicians started working in the field at around noon on Tuesday the 22nd, and pretty much worked through to Sunday. Every one of our customers were on for a while on Christmas eve." Connot continued, "We turned on the lights so Santa Claus could see the houses. We actually had a lot of calls about exactly that." Power has been now restored to all of West Central's customers.

"A major thing during the height of the storm was our men being able to see to work," said Connot. "It's one thing to sit in the office during a storm, but its another to hear a guy on the radio ask where another one is and the second says that he has absolutely no idea due to the white out conditions. But, they kept working."

"We can re-close the breakers on the transmission lines from the office. Once those and their substations were back on, the distribution lines that go all over the country to people's homes had to be worked on. Ice had to be broken off of the lines. We did lose 15 distribution poles," said Connot. "We caution our customer/members that there may be some low or disconnected wires out there. If you see anything that doesn't look right, please call us. That is often how we first learn of such things. We very much appreciate those calls."

Kenny Neville, superintendent of the Haakon County highway depatment, and his crew started plowing roads on Saturday. They did some work on Sunday, but could not open up much because it was still blowing and drifting. Neville said, "We ask that the public be patient. There are a lot of drifts out there at least four-feet high and one and one-half miles long. There is nowhere to put the snow. We will do the main roads first, then start working on the side roads and some drives. We'll go back later and widen things out."

"It is nice that for this storm the schools were out for Christmas vacation," said Neville. "We didn't have to worry about the students' safety and getting them in and out from home to school." There is a small chance that the department may have to hire outside help. The department does not have enough manpower nor equipment to get everyone through some of the larger drifts as soon as Neville would like. His grader has already been stuck once and had to be pulled out with a loader. The department has five motor graders and two loaders.