Storm grips province: high winds, blowing snow cause highway closures

By Phil Ambroziak

Spring may be here, but winter isn’t willing to go away so easily.
Travel throughout some parts of Saskatchewan came to a standstill last week when blowing snow and blizzard-like conditions resulted in numerous road and highway closures.
Beginning Wednesday afternoon and continuing through Friday, winds as high as 80 km/h combined with up to 15 centimetres of snowfall wreaked havoc on hundreds of kilometres of Trans-Canada Highway from Regina to Gull Lake. Closer to home, highways north and west of North Battleford were also temporarily closed resulting in Meadow Lake and area residents having to cancel or reschedule several appointments and meetings. One such individual was Meadow Lake MLA Jeremy Harrison.
“It’s just awful,” Harrison said when contacted Friday. “I’ve never seen it this bad and I’ve been driving from Meadow Lake to Regina and back quite regularly for the last several years. The whole winter’s been bad – I’ve had to cancel no less than three trips this year because of it and I’ve never seen as many accidents as I have this winter.”
Between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, RCMP reported 127 incidents involving motor vehicles. By the end of the day, this number had increased to 150.
“While called in as crashes, many referred to vehicles being in the ditch, stuck on the road or semi units jack-knifed,” noted Regina RCMP Sgt. Doug Coleman. “(As of Friday morning) there are still roads blocked by this storm ranging from north of Saskatoon through Regina to the U.S. border and west to the Alberta border.”
Although reopened by Friday, the closure of Highway 4 this side of North Battleford also resulted in the temporary cancellation of the Meadow Lake-North Battleford Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) bus route and prevented the delivery of mail, daily newspapers and other regular shipments from Saskatoon and other parts of the province.
“We had a group of about 45 students stuck in Saskatoon Thursday night because the roads were so bad,” remarked Jonas Samson Junior High School principal Jim Snodgrass.
The students – members of the JSJH concert band – were out of town for a music festival when the storm hit.
“They left Tuesday and were supposed to return Thursday,” Snodgrass said. “They didn’t get back until around 12:30 p.m. Friday. The kids were tired, but I think parents were happy we took the safe route.”
The highway closure also caused a setback at Meadow Lake Mechanical Pulp Inc.
“It did impact us – we did stop trucking pulp to North Battleford yesterday,” noted pulp mill general manager Simon Imray when contacted Thursday morning. “We loaded all the pulp onto the trucks, but the trucks stayed in town Wednesday night. We’ll have to play a bit of catchup.”
The mill normally trucks 20-24 loads of pulp per day.
Imray said the weather also reduced the number of logs being delivered to the mill, as well as other raw materials.
“Visibility and road conditions would be the main reasons for this,” he said. “We also took precautions (because of the wind) and tied down our log crane.”
The impact on travel conditions also led to the Northern Pikes Wrestling Club postponing its provincial championships, which were originally set for March 23 at Carpenter High School.
Last week’s storm also caused power outages in some small communities near Regina, as well as in the North. One such community was Ile-a-la Crosse where residents were without electricity for close to five hours.

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