Area braces for double-whammy
Depending on how things play out, Becker County could get hit with significant snowfall in the final few days of the year.
The National Weather Service office in Grand Forks says the weather pattern remains "very complex."
Freezing drizzle fell in the area Thursday morning, coating roads and windshields.
"An area of snow will develop Thursday afternoon into Thursday evening from Fargo and Wahpeton through Minnesota lakes country with 5 to 8 inches of new snow expected," the weather service said on its website.
North winds of 20 to 35 mph will cause blowing snow and reduced visibility.
That's the first round of what's expected to be a one-two storm punch. A winter storm warning is in effect until 6 a.m. Friday and a blizzard watch is in effect from Friday afternoon through Saturday morning.
The second storm will bring very cold air, with wind chills expected to be as low as 22 below zero Friday, along with strong winds, more snow and possible blizzard conditions, the weather service said.
The Becker County Highway Department was doing what it could to prepare in advance.
"Our biggest concern right off the bat is freezing rain," said Highway Engineer Brad Wentz. "We're doing some pre-wetting, where we lay down salt beforehand so it doesn't ice so bad."
The department focused its efforts on recently-completed construction -- particularly on county roads 55 and 11, since new pavement can get especially slick, Wentz said.
But things could be worse.
Becker County is sitting pretty compared to neighboring Clay County.
A fire that destroyed the Clay County Highway Department building in Barnesville Tuesday afternoon caused at least $3 million in damage.
Assistant Clay County Engineer Nathan Gannon said two road graders worth about $200,000 each were lost, including one that was purchased last week.
Three plow trucks and a payloader were also destroyed inside the 50-foot-by-100-foot building. The building and all its contents were considered a total loss.
Investigators were still working on Wednesday to determine the cause, said Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist.
Wentz said Becker County has loaned an extra plow truck to Clay County, which was picked up on Tuesday.
Cass County in North Dakota also loaned out spare plows that Clay County crews will use to keep the roads clear, Gannon said.
He added that other counties and some businesses have also offered extra help if Clay County needs it.
For its part, Becker County is ready to handle the stormy weather, Wentz said.
"We're all ready to go," he said. "The salt and sand piles are all ready to go at the out-shops."
The county now operates highway shops in Lake Park and recently opened a new one in Osage, equipped with three plow trucks -- allowing it to close shops in Wolf Lake and Ponsford.
The county also keeps a plow truck at the tribal transportation building in White Earth village. A county employee who lives nearby mans that plow, Wentz said.
The county doesn't have the budget to provide 24-hour snow plowing.
"We generally get out there early in the morning before traffic gets on them too much," Wentz said. "We put in our 10-12 hours, then let it go -- we don't have the manpower to stay out all night -- we get at it again in the morning."
If conditions deteriorate to the point where "we don't have visibility, we will pull them off" the roads, Wentz said.
"We'll try to be out there as much as we can this weekend," Wentz said. "But we're urging people to only drive if you have to, and take caution out there."