Challenging weather

During the winter months, drivers often experience bad road conditions, dangerous commutes and unsafe weather.

While most people are discouraged from driving in those conditions, for some, such as law enforcement officers, driving in snowy weather is unavoidable.

Working in winter weather brings its own set of challenges, according to the law enforcement officers who need to be out in the weather.

Chief Deputy Rod Strait, of the Webster County Sheriff’s Department, said being on the road itself can be challenging.

“We’re just facing the results of the other drivers on the roadway,” Strait said. “We’re going to be forced to be out on the road when people are out when they don’t need to be. It puts us in jeopardy just like anybody else on the roadway.”

Fort Dodge Police Lt. Joe Bates agreed with Strait.

“We see a lot of accidents and stalled vehicles,” he said. “And the roadway conditions aren’t always the best.”

Lt. Kelly Hindman, of the Iowa State Patrol, said even helping stranded motorists can bring about challenges.

“We spend a great deal of time outside the car or on the shoulder helping motorists,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for people, when they see our lights, to hit the brakes, steer one way or another and lose control of the vehicle.”

Though not common in District 7, Hindman said patrol cars sometimes get hit by drivers who are trying to slow down. He added that it’s a bigger problem on Interstate 35.

To prepare for working in the cold, there are preparations that officers can make to be sure they stay warm.

Strait said that includes dressing in warm clothing.

“We make sure we have our extra cold weather gear in our vehicles,” he said. “We’ve had deputies stranded out in weather before and now we’re more equipped to handle that.”

Hindman agreed.

“In this winter, especially day after day with the extreme cold, we have to dress for that,” he said. “We don’t know if we’re going to be out for a long time or a short time. Being outside isn’t any safer for us than it is anyone else. We give our troopers all the winter gear we can give them.”

But even with those preparations, Bates said it’s hard to prepare for snowy weather.

“We’re in that mind frame that when winter weather does come, it’s going to be a bad day for us,” he said. “We do the best we can do with the conditions and manpower. Everything seems to work out, but sometimes it’s a challenge.”

Sometimes even the equipment doesn’t stand up to the cold, according to Strait.

“We service our vehicles to make sure they’re dependable, but when we hit the cold weather there’s sometimes equipment failures that are beyond our control,” he said. “We try to make sure everybody notifies somebody when they’re leaving and when they come back. We also try to prepare ourselves for extended exposure and being outside for an extended period of time.”

He added there’s no specific training available to teach how to drive in snow.

“We’re just like every other driver,” Strait said. “Every storm is a little bit different and every situation is a bit different.”