Roads reopened and the lights came back on for thousands of customers Thursday as the northern Plains recovered from a storm that blasted in from the Rockies.
Travelers were trapped as the snowfall reached as high as 24 inches in a band stretching across North Dakota, from Dickinson in the southwest to Langdon in the northeast. Winds gusted to 50 mph in Minot.
The National Weather Service said the wintry weather was among the earliest on record in the state.
Interstate 94, the state’s main east-west artery, was reopened west of Bismarck at midmorning, but authorities warned that many other roads remained coated in ice.
National Guard soldiers worked with state troopers and other workers to rescue stranded motorists using snow plows, buses, heavy trucks and bulldozers, along with a piece of utility equipment that runs on tank-like tracks. No injuries were reported.
About 60 bus passengers who had been stuck for hours got hot meals, free T-shirts and cots in the Dickinson State University student union, courtesy of student volunteers.
William Jordan, of Conway, N.C., said he was grateful for the help but added, “This place, North Dakota, is terrible, man. It’s cold.”
11,000 lost powerAt least 11,000 customers lost electricity, but most had it back by Thursday morning.
The Red Cross opened a shelter in Minot, the first time it had done so there because of weather, said Allan McGeough, the city chapter’s executive director.
Crews trying to clean up fallen trees in Minot were hampered by snow and ice. “A lot of the stuff is frozen to the ground,” said Alan Walter, the city’s public works director.
The storm came just a few days after North Dakota had temperatures in the 90s. Warmer weather was forecast to return in the coming days.
A blizzard warning was in effect through Thursday for the Devils Lake area in the north-central part of the state. In Wyoming, schools in a number of communities were either closed or delayed because of snowfall and blackouts.
“It is, on our records, probably one of the earliest ones, as far as our recorded history goes,” said Sam Walker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck.
The snowfall caused trees to snap or sag into power lines, sparking widespread outages. Blackouts were reported in parts of eastern Montana and in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Montana gets nearly a foot
As much as 11 inches of snow had fallen in southeastern Montana Wednesday. Billings had received 10.8 inches, National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Humphrey said.
The Montana Department of Transportation said blowing and drifting snow contributed to the closure of portions of two highways in eastern Montana — U.S. Highway 12 and Interstate 94.
In Utah, the ski industry was looking up.
Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort received its first snow of the year Tuesday with 6 inches atop 11,000-foot Hidden Peak. More snow was falling Wednesday.
“There are still projects to be done before winter arrives, but this first snowfall has put smiles on the faces of people all around Snowbird,” said Snowbird President Bob Bonar.