Snow day in May

An unusual May storm deposited 4 to 6 inches of wet snow on the Fort Dodge region Thursday morning, knocking down tree branches, impeding traffic and causing power outages that affected 2,600 utility customers.

The storm forced the cancellation of classes at Fort Dodge Community School District and Fort Dodge parochial schools, as well as Iowa Central Community College, giving the students a day off due to snow just a few weeks before the end of the academic year.

”We’re having a really busy day with these storms moving through our service area,” said Abby Bottenfield, a spokeswoman for MidAmerican Energy.

She said 75 repair crews, including 30 from outside the Fort Dodge area, were sent to deal with the outages. Electricity to many Fort Dodge and Webster County customers was restored by late morning, she said.

Just after 5:20 p.m. Thursday, according to Bottenfield, 1,071 households were still without power in the Fort Dodge. There were also 127 reported incidents in the area, she said.

“We have roughly 200 crew members on sites to restore power,” said Bottenfield. Those crews would be working throughout the evening and into this morning, she added.

Steve Griggs was among the Fort Dodge residents who tried to move the heavy slush with a snowblower. He said the effort at his North Third Street home wasn’t going very well Thursday morning.

”Not very good at all,” he said. ”You have to put in twice as much effort.”

A large tree fell down in his backyard, he said.

In Webster County, the National Weather Service recorded 4.5 inches of snow near Harcourt and 6.2 inches near Badger.

The service reported 5.5 inches of snow in Fort Dodge.

President Harry Truman was in the White House the last time any measurable amount of snow fell in Fort Dodge during the month of May, according to information provided by Harry Hillaker, the state climatologist. He said the city received 1 inch of snow on May 28, 1947.

Fort Dodge also received 1 inch of snow on May 4, 1917, he said.

Webster County road crews had to put the snowplows back onto the dump trucks.

”We did not see this coming,” said Jamie Johll, the assistant county engineer.

He said 35 plow drivers began working at 4 a.m.

The county’s gravel roads are so wet that the plows could not go on them, but they are open to traffic, according to Johll.

Elsewhere in the region, Calhoun County received about 4 inches of snow, while Pocahontas County received between 4 to 7 inches.

Northern Kossuth County received about 10 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service. Six inches of snow was reported in Algona.

For drivers, the area around U.S. Highway 20 and Interstate 35 in Hamilton County was especially treacherous. Sgt. Wes Niles of the Iowa State Patrol said several tractor-trailers jackknifed there and other vehicles slid into the roadside ditches. He said he did not think anyone was injured in those accidents.

There were no serious traffic accidents in Webster County, according to Chief Deputy Sheriff Rod Strait.

”We had quite a few vehicles off the road or stuck right on the roadway,” he said.

He said a tractor-trailer jackknifed on Iowa Highway 175 between Dayton and Harcourt.

Throughout Fort Dodge, there were numerous streets blocked by downed power lines and fallen trees, according to police Sgt. Matt Lundberg. There were also a few vehicles stuck in the snow, he added.

The wet snow plugged some storm drains, causing flooding on Williams Drive, on streets near Crossroads Mall and on the Karl King Viaduct on Second Avenue South. Lundberg said all the water drained quickly after the snow was removed from the storm sewer intakes.

”The snow melt was struggling to find a drain,” said Greg Koch, the city’s public works director. ”There was minor flooding, but we got to it quickly enough to keep it from getting really bad.”

Koch said the first group of city snowplow drivers went out at 3 a.m. By 5 a.m. there were 12 snowplows on the road, he added.

By 8 a.m. the temperature began rising and that’s when the flooding problems started, according to Koch.

The Fort Dodge Regional Airport closed very early Thursday morning, according to Rhonda Chambers, the director of aviation. The first two Great Lakes Airlines flights of the day were canceled.

The airport reopened at 10:45 a.m., Chambers said. She added that just one of the two runways was in use early Thursday afternoon.

There were 20 minor traffic accidents in Pocahontas County during the storm, according to Jeremy Hamp, the emergency management coordinator there.

He added that power outages occurred in Fonda, Pomeroy and Rolfe.

”It’s a typical snow except that it’s not a typical date,” said Pocahontas County Engineer Jack Moellering.

”We thought we were done with the slop season,” he added.

Moellering said the county crews began working on the roads at 6 a.m. and had the paved roads clear by noon. He said the road conditions were the worst on the county’s east side.

Jim Kelly, the Kossuth County emergency management coordinator, said 30 utility poles toppled there and numerous power lines were down. He said there was a five-vehicle collision on U.S. Highway 18, but no one was injured.