- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Some schools in the Dakotas started late and others closed Thursday as a fast-moving weather system tore through the Northern Plains, packing winds in excess of 60 mph with more bitterly cold temperatures on its heels.

Interstate 90 was closed for a short time Thursday afternoon in western South Dakota between Sturgis and Rapid City after at least one multiple-vehicle accident. The stretch of highway was icy with whiteout conditions that left drivers with little to no visibility.

In North Dakota, a travel alert for Williston, Dickinson, Minot, Bismarck and surrounding areas was lifted Thursday afternoon. But a travel alert remained in effect for Devils Lake, Jamestown, Valley City, Grand Forks and surrounding areas due to blowing and drifting snow creating reduced visibility.

The National Weather Service posted a variety of blizzard and winter weather advisories, watches and warnings for the two states.

“In the last hour, we’re starting to see more sites with close-to-whiteout conditions,” Pete Speicher, a weather service meteorologist in Grand Forks, said at midday.

The system brought only light snow that had mostly passed beyond the states by lunchtime, but strong winds were blowing around snow already on the ground.

“It’s last week’s snow, not this week’s snow,” Speicher said.

In western South Dakota, the weather service recorded wind gusts as strong as 66 mph. At least two semitrailers were reported in the ditch off Interstate 90 in southern South Dakota. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The region has been experiencing subzero temperatures and life-threatening wind chills for days, and those conditions were expected to continue late Thursday and early Friday.

“We’ve got a pretty big cold mass coming behind this,” Speicher said. “It’s going to be like that for the next several nights.”

The extreme cold in the Northern Plains isn’t setting temperature records, but it is setting atmospheric pressure records.

High pressure readings often accompany outbreaks of extreme cold, and on Wednesday they set records at numerous recording stations around South Dakota, State Climatologist Dennis Todey said. The recording at Mitchell broke South Dakota’s 31-year-old state record.

There were no records in North Dakota, though several readings came close, according to State Climatologist Adnan Akyuz.

Pressure readings don’t mean much to the average person, but the transition from a high pressure system Wednesday to a low pressure system Thursday resulted in the strong winds across the region Thursday, according to Todey and Akyuz.

“Other than the extreme cold, most citizens probably did not note the higher pressure in their daily lives,” Todey said. “The bigger issue is probably the contrast with approaching low pressure, which leads to stronger … wind speeds.”

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake.


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