Sioux Falls has already closed schools for the rest of the week. Partners in Sioux Falls’ Emergency Operations Center say now is the most dangerous part of this spring’s extreme winter weather.
Sioux Falls Fire Rescue Chief Jim Sideras says he’s concerned people are going to rush cleanup despite heavy snow, slick ice and fierce wind gusts.
"Today, tomorrow is not the day to learn to use a chainsaw. We have to be really cautious about your safety and the safety of your neighbors, too. Wait for someone that’s trained in how to use that," Sideras says. "And the same with getting out snowblowers today. The snow is heavy; it’s thick. Take your time. Normally we have people that overexert themselves, and we want to be careful that you mind your own safety, and we can get through this."
Sideras says ice breaking off of trees and sheets of ice sliding from rooftops pose safety risks; he’s advised firefighters to wear their helmets on all calls. Sideras says he anticipates more calls of people getting hurt as they clear branches and move snow.
Sioux Falls' Mayor Mike Huether says people should avoid unnecessary cleanup following half a foot of snow that dropped on top of a layer of ice. Huether says the city needs weeks if not longer to restore the damage, and people should use patience even these first days.
"I’ve seen good men and women out there trying to clear those sidewalks of ice and snow, and we’ve trained you well. But stop it. Stop it," Huether says. "Those overhanging branches, those limbs – they are still gonna fall. You’ve seen it live; they’re falling every 60 seconds here. So don’t clear those sidewalks. Let’s wait until this weekend."
Officials are coordinating a city-wide cleanup plan for branches and debris. For now, people should pile them on the boulevard. The mayor says he’s talked with South Dakota’s lieutenant governor, and he’s exploring city-state cooperation as cleanup continues.
Energized power lines are still down around the city. About 20,000 people in the Sioux falls area are without electricity. The snow weighs down power lines already coated with ice, and wind gusts and falling branches could take down even more lines. Sioux falls Police Chief Doug Barthel says officers roped off countless streets where electrical wires crashed to the ground.
"Our police officers are putting up most of that, and within the first day or so we actually ran out of the yellow police tape, so we had to go out and buy more just to mark off these areas," Barthel says.
Power crews are working around the clock to reestablish electricity to areas without power. Electric companies plan to have the lights back on to the majority of customers by 11 p.m. Thursday.
As crews scramble to clear city streets of inches of snow, they’re changing strategies. City leaders first tried to cope with streets snarled with broken limbs by cutting a one-lane passage through the snow. Director of Public Works Mark Cotter says that spawned an additional problem.
"Just with the consistency and how wet this snow is, if we only open up one lane of travel, it’s creating two large windrows on both sides of that traveled way, and we’re getting some feedback from the public that that’s not working very good," Cotter says.
City workers are using salt trucks to chemicals to those streets instead; they anticipate the salt plus reasonable weather can melt the snow on those roads. Crews worked into the night Wednesday to remove fallen trees and large branches from the streets. Sioux Falls leaders want city roads passable by next week.
Southeastern South Dakota’s county roads are faring well, considering up to eight inches of snow and ice. Minnehaha County Emergency Manager Lynn DeYoung says plows cleared many county thoroughfares Thursday morning, but drivers should pay close attention to temporary, unscheduled road closures.
"As a result of the power lines, our county highway crews and the county sheriff’s office are working in tandem with those highway crews, and at multiple times during the day, there may be road closures," DeYoung says. "So what we’re reminding people is that, when you come upon that, please do your due diligence. Don’t be driving around barricades. Don’t be driving around law enforcement, and please don’t just be a looky-loo and causing other incidents."
Law enforcement rope off areas where power lines are down, because those wires could be live. Officials remove the barricades after electric crews repair the problem.
All authorities of the Emergency Operations Center say recovery from this storm is likely to take week and months.