- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A snowstorm hitting the Dakotas for a second day Wednesday cut electricity to hundreds of homes and businesses, caused problems for motorists and prompted dozens of schools to delay or cancel classes.

Electrical repair crews in central and southern North Dakota reduced outages from nearly 4,000 Tuesday to at least 500 by Wednesday evening, but officials worried that winds gusting to 30 mph could raise the number going into Thursday morning.

“As the wind picks up, we’re worried that the number (of outages) will actually grow,” said Tom Rafferty, spokesman for Verendrye Electric Cooperative in the Minot-Velva area. “We’re out in full force, but the frost is so thick on the lines. It’s mainly just the weight of the frost on the lines.”

Rafferty said the utility had reports of outages from no more than 300 accounts, but by the evening, the number had increased to 450 and more reports were expected overnight as the combination of 5-inch frost and wind will likely bring down more lines and poles.

“We are telling people to find a place to stay,” Rafferty said. “If you don’t have power right now, you probably won’t have it at least until tomorrow.”

Mor-Gran-Sou Electric in southern North Dakota also was dealing with heavy frost on lines and outages. Chief of Staff Jackie Miller said the number of outages throughout Wednesday “was fluid.”

South Dakota took the brunt of the storm on Tuesday, with some areas getting a foot of snow. The 4.3 inches of snow that fell at the Rapid City airport broke 34-year-old city records for the date, according to the National Weather Service. The snow total at the airport later reached 4.9 inches.

Transportation officials reopened Interstate 90 between Rapid City and Chamberlain Wednesday morning, but issued a no travel advisory in the evening between Ellsworth Air Force Base east to Vivian because of snow and ice-covered surfaces. The state Department of Transportation said those conditions combined with high winds led to multiple crashes in that area Wednesday afternoon.

The base closed to everyone but essential personnel on Tuesday, but allowed nonessential personnel to come in late Wednesday and authorized administrative leave for civilian workers.

The storm hit North Dakota hardest on Wednesday. The state Transportation Department issued travel alerts for northeast and central North Dakota. There were no immediate reports of any major accidents, though the Highway Patrol said a 31-year-old Jamestown man suffered serious injuries Tuesday afternoon when he lost control of his sport utility vehicle on an icy Interstate 94 near Valley City. He was hospitalized in Fargo.

Many schools in the two states closed Wednesday, or started late so buses weren’t traveling on snow-clogged roads before sunrise. Mount Rushmore National Memorial in western South Dakota, which closed early on Tuesday, reopened several hours late on Wednesday.

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