Winter storm socks county with wind, snow Motorists had to negotiate Vermillion's Main Street with care Wednesday, after a winter storm dumped perhaps as much as nine inches of snow in the region. The storm began early Tuesday morning, but didn't start to subside until Tuesday night, giving city street crews a chance to break out their snow moving equipment. City crews cleared two driving lanes on Main Street by pushing the snow into a large ridge down the street's center. by David Lias Paul Roberts of Clay-Union Electric, which serves rural electric customers in Clay and Union counties, made a unique observation following Tuesday's first major snowstorm of the winter season.
"It seems that trees grow better next to electric lines," he said.
A combination of those trees, wet heavy snow, and strong winds made life miserable Tuesday for not only residents of Clay County, but also electric crews from the cooperative who struggled to try to restore power to its customers.
"Our day started at about 10 minutes to 4 a.m.," Roberts said. "That's when we lost power to three substations because of problems caused by the storm."
All of the customers served by those three substations lost power. "East River (Electric Cooperative) had to restore power to those substations," he said. "We must have had 800 to 1,000 people who had their electricity off."
Roberts is disappointed that the cooperative, despite its best efforts, couldn't restore electricity to everyone by nightfall Tuesday.
Mother Nature proved to be too unyielding Tuesday.
Even though the National Weather Service doesn't have an official observer in Vermillion, it's likely that Clay County's conditions Tuesday were very similar to those in Yankton.
According to Harold Storey, a meteorological technician with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, Yankton received 14 inches of precipitation with 9 inches of snow on the ground. Sioux Falls and Huron each received over 11 inches of snow.
"At their peak, Yankton had wind gusts of 53 miles per hour, and they lasted for quite a period of time," Storey said. "They didn't stop dropping until about midnight."
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Conditions were so bad early Tuesday morning in Vermillion that it didn't take long for Vermillion public and St. Agnes schools to cancel classes. The University of South Dakota campus was also closed to students.
The county's roads were in such rough shape yet Wednesday that Vermillion schools used another snow day.
The weather was so severe Tuesday that the Vermillion Police Department announced that anyone found driving on city streets would be stopped and arrested.
In the 18 years that Roberts has been with Clay-Union Electric, he can only recall having to deal with two other winter storms of greater severity.
He was, himself, a victim of the blinding snow and slick roads Tuesday morning. He got to work thanks to a passer-by who stopped after his vehicle slid into a ditch as he was driving to work.
He said that after power was restored to the transformers, electric crews ventured out in the storm to begin the long process of finding downed power lines.
It was no easy process. Roberts said visibility was so poor that one was lucky to see "beyond the plastic bug screen on the hood of your truck. We were kept busy trying to battle the visibility, which was just absolutely zero, so we still have a lot of individual outages.
"But even with the zero visibility, that's something that we've had to deal with before, and there is a risk to life and limb," he added. "But the biggest problem was you just absolutely could not get down the roads. This was probably one of the most dramatic storms we've had in the time I've worked here."
Electric crews worked outside until approximately 7 p.m. Tuesday, when darkness forced them to return to Vermillion. But even though they had put in well over a 12 hour day, they kept on working in the cooperative's shop until 9 p.m., framing and loading poles on trucks so that crews could get a fresh start Wednesday replacing broken poles.
Clay-Union Electric is receiving the assistance of linemen from Rosebud Electric, Lincoln-Union, and Turner-Hutchinson cooperatives.
"We had originally planned for about six extra crews," Roberts said. "We've assigned specific areas to various crews."
Roberts is grateful that Clay County residents understood the severity of Tuesday's conditions. Several people went out of their way to help; farmers came out in the storm with their tractors to free cooperative trucks that became stuck in the snow.
Despite everyone's best efforts, there were still people without power Wednesday.
"I think it's too early to say whether we'll have everyone on (with electricity restored) today," Roberts said Wednesday afternoon. "We left 100 people off (without power) last night.
But of all of the people that called his office to ask when power would be restored, less than a handful actually complained, he said.
"Rural people understand what it's like to live in a rural area," he said. "They are pretty reasonable."
Storey said South Dakota can thank this recent blast of severe winter weather to a low pressure system that centered over Minnesota. The system, which rotates in a counter-clockwise direction, brought moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico and dumped on much of South Dakota, first in the form of rain, and later, after the temperatures dropped and the winds picked up, in the form or a raging snowstorm.
Storey said South Dakota's weather was destined to improve this week. By mid-afternoon Wednesday, sunny conditions helped boost the temperature in Vermillion to above freezing, which helped remove the ice that had coated city streets earlier in the day.